PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Army Transportation Museum houses dozens of old army vehicles, but more importantly, it’s the stories behind them and the people to tell them.
One World War II veteran, who did some pretty special things while piloting boats for the Army is former Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Gragg. He remembers details from 74 years ago, as if it were yesterday!
In 1945, the Army drafted Gragg while in high school in the “no-traffic-light-town” of Wilmar, Arkansas. Less than a year later, he was 8,000 miles away in the Philipines, serving in the Army’s nearly all-black 24th Infantry Regiment.
U.S. Army retired Rebecca Brashears said, “there were about 300 colored troops…which was how they were referred to back then.”
Gragg, who piloted duck boats which were the Army’s version of a floating truck said, “We started training on duck in the middle of ’47.”
In the Korean War, he remembers coming under gunfire while crossing a river.
“The enemy opened upon us with small arms fire from the beach. Well, thanks to the infantry we were carrying, they opened up with their weapons from our ducks. We got one duck hit pretty bad.”
In 1966, Gragg completed Warrant Officer School as the first black Deck Warrant Officer and Captain of an Army Landing Craft Utility Boat.
“We had 12 U-boats, 12 Army Captains. I’m the only black … a 15 man crew [who were] all white,” said Gragg. “They were good men.. and [they] found out later I knew my job and they’d do anything for me.”
Gragg captained 100-foot tug boats, and a 300-foot fuel tanker before retiring in 1973.
Homelife? He and his wife Anne ran a daycare and school in Hampton, Virginia. They raised three children of their own before Anne died in 1989.
At 92, Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Gragg looks back: “Well, I had a wonderful ride, I had good days and bad days … more good than bad.