When Bob Groper graduated from Granby Memorial High School in 1966, the war in Vietnam was raging.
“My father died when I was 19,” Groper says. “That shook me up, and I had no direction. One day, my friend John Kearns and I decided to enlist in the Army. We didn’t want to be drafted.”
Groper and Kearns attended advanced individual training together at Fort Dix, N.J. “One day they asked for volunteers, and someone had told me never to volunteer, so I didn’t,” Groper says. “John volunteered. While those who volunteered attended a general’s retirement party, the rest of us had to rake leaves in the woods. I guess there was a lesson there.”
Following 10 weeks of advanced infantry training, Groper received his orders: he was being sent to Vietnam. “They taught us about what happens in Vietnam, especially how to avoid booby traps, and I guess I did a good job of that because I’m still here,” he says. “We lost seven Granby men in Vietnam, and that broke many hearts.”
While patrolling in a South Vietnamese village, Groper developed an affection for one of the many stray dogs. “The villagers eat dogs over there, and my friends and I couldn’t let that happen to this friendly mutt,” Groper says. “We traded a case of C-rations for him, named him Fubis and made him our mascot.”
Although Groper had hoped to bring Fubis home to Granby when his tour ended, his unit was sent into a dangerous zone where a dog would have been a serious liability, so Fubis was left behind. “Until then, he enjoyed being cared for, probably for the first time ever,” he says.
Groper served a year in Vietnam from Sept. 23, 1969 to Sept. 22, 1970, followed by four years on standby in the reserves.
Understandably, Groper finds it difficult to talk about his year in Vietnam, but he is happy to share the importance of his friendship with other Granby veterans. An active member of Shannon-Shattuck Post 182 of the American Legion, Groper finds being with other veterans critical to healing from the emotional toll that war takes on soldiers. “The fellowship is wonderful, strong and lasts a lifetime,” he says. “It’s an important part of my life.”
After his discharge from the Army, Groper worked at a series of jobs, including installing windows and awnings and driving a truck for a building supply company. “I like to drive,” he says. “You’re on your own and make your own day while getting the job done.”
On the job just a short time, Groper was elected union steward. “After a few years, I got into sales with the same company, and I sold for different big supply companies until I retired,” he says. Setting a goal and working with a team to achieve it is a skill that Groper learned in the Army. It has served him well throughout his life.
“My home is a former North Granby schoolhouse,” Groper says. “When I bought it in 1986, we had to move out for three months while a team of carpenters removed the roof and added a second story.” The Army also taught him patience.
While helping other veterans, especially those who are battling illness and age, is a priority, Groper also enjoys children. His son Damion lives in Texas, where he has four grandchildren and six great grandchildren, whom he visits when he can. Meanwhile, when he has the opportunity, Groper enjoys playing Santa. “When my sister was a travel agent, she had a client who needed a Santa for a Christmas party, and she asked me, so I rented a costume and enjoyed it a lot,” he says. After that first stint, Groper performed an encore whenever asked.
Understanding the importance of finding joy in life, when Groper had to stop riding his prize Harley Davidson motorcycle, he shipped it to Damion and bought a bright red 1939 Chevy coupe that he named Ruby. “I give her a bath before I take her out anywhere, and I don’t drive her in the rain,” he confides.
Like so many others, while serving in Vietnam, Groper was exposed to Agent Orange and has recently begun showing symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. “I’m lucky to have made it home alive,” he says. “I’m lucky I made it to age 76.”
Groper is a man who counts his blessings. “My wife Mary and I got married right here on this property,” he says, eager to reminisce on that day. “We exchanged vows under the arbor on the edge of the brook, had a bluegrass band and dancing on the driveway. May 15, 2010, was a perfect day.”
When Mary is busy with her gardens or visiting friends, Groper enjoys getting together with a group of veterans to take fellow veteran and longtime Granby resident Mo Brassard, 94, to breakfast. “We support each other,” he says. “That’s something special. We have a bond.”
Utica, N.Y., native Brian Tarbox has lived in Granby for 29 years, since shortly after he was discharged from the U.S. Army, having served his country for 20 years, 24 days.
“I didn’t know a lot about the world in 1973 when I was 19,” Tarbox says. “After high school, I thought, let me go into the military like my two older brothers. One of my brothers told me not to volunteer for anything. I volunteered for everything, and it was a blessing.”
During his physical exam, Tarbox asked to serve in communications because he liked to tinker. After basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., he was sent to Fort Gordon, Ga., for advanced individual training and then to Fort Ritchey, Md., spending 18 months at a top-secret site. Among his assignments was weekly communication with Air Force One to ensure that all systems were working properly. “That’s where I learned to play pinochle, out of desperation to help pass the time in the underground buildings,” he says. “It was very quiet, very secret. In case of a national disaster, a VIP could be safe there.”
In 1975, after marrying his first wife Dale, Tarbox was sent to Frankfort, Germany, for two years, working in technical communication. He then received orders to return to Fort Gordon, where he helped create a company to support the airborne unit at Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah. While there, his son Steven was born.
Two years later, Tarbox was transferred to Athens, Greece. “I was in communications support with top-secret crypto clearance, and the Army had a confidential site in Greece that needed my skills,” he explains. “Our apartment was up in the mountains, with a spectacular view of Athens, which definitely helped relieve the stress of my assignment.”
After serving in communications for 15 years, at age 34 Tarbox made a switch to equipment maintenance. “I was tired of constantly learning in the communications field,” he explains. “They sent me back to Fort Gordon, and I spent 10 months in training for maintenance certification. When I graduated, they kept me there as an instructor.”
A year later, Tarbox was reassigned, this time as a recruiter, including a stint in Washington, D.C., as a nurse recruiter. “They kept moving me to places where they were having trouble because I knew how to recruit. When I was sent to Albany, I told the general that I’d make the numbers for him, and I did. When God gives you the ability to do something, you go out and do it,” Tarbox says. It was in Albany that Tarbox met Teresa, a nurse counselor whom he courted and married after he and Dale divorced.
Teresa spent more than 21 years as an Army nurse, retiring as a disabled veteran with sarcoidosis, a disease that shuts down the immune system. “Our Veterans Administration doctors have kept Teresa alive,” says Tarbox. “They’re the best.”
Tarbox retired from the Army in 1993. Two years later, he bought a home in West Granby and joined the Lost Acres Fire Department, serving for 25 years. He worked repairing TVs and VCRs for 10 years before retiring at age 54. Teresa’s disease was progressing, so Tarbox used a VA grant to remodel their home to accommodate her needs and became her full-time caregiver.
Three years ago, Tarbox bought a recreational vehicle so he and Teresa could visit friends and family without imposing on them. “It’s a good way for us to travel and relax,” he says. “The Army took me around the world. Now our RV is taking us around America.
“I never served in combat,” he adds. “I was among the many people working behind the scene to keep this country and our troops safe. My time in the military has gotten me more in life than four years of college would have. I traveled the world, and the courses I took to advance my career in communications and electronic maintenance comprised an excellent education.”
If any Granby family has a member serving in the military and would like him or her to receive The Granby Drummer in the mail, please contact Managing Editor Jen Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org, providing their address details.