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A Pearl Harbor Survivor in our Midst

Here is a new blog from one of our favorite regulars and guest-blogger Maggie about another one of our favorite regulars...

Last year survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 met in Washington DC to commemorate to 70th anniversary of that infamous day in American history - some of them stopping by the Front Page Arlington (FPA) for lunch. Although FPA is known to have random celebrities drop in there is none more special than regular Major Albert (Al) Grasselli, II USMC (Retired), one of those survivors. Today I had the honor of sitting with him for a few minutes at the Front Page to talk about his experiences and why he loves owner Jorge Fernandez and FPA.

Al, as his friends call him, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1940 and as he tells it, he found himself at Ewa Marine Air Base about 15 miles outside of Pearl Harbor. Ewa would be attacked three times that day. Major Grasselli told me that he and his compatriots took out their rifles and began shooting at the enemy aircraft flying over. He laughed, saying they knew they probably wouldn't hit anything but felt they had to try to do something. In other accounts he has said: "The enemy bullet either ricocheted or hit my rifle sight directly. In any case, it missed striking me in the head by six inches." Quite a lot for a 19 year-old soldier far from home in Eureka, Kansas.

His war stories don't stop with Pearl Harbor. Six months later then Marine Corps Sergeant Grasselli would go on to serve at Midway Naval Base as an aerial navigator. June 1942 would prove to be another life changing event in Al's life as he safely navigated 24 planes into Midway. US Navy actions over those three days thwarted the Imperial Japanese Navy's attempt to destroy US carriers and became the first US naval victory against the Japanese.

Albert Grasselli would go on to serve as a pilot in the Korean War, completing 86 combat missions. At one point, Grasselli would return from a mission only to have one of his fellow pilots land his Corsair on top of his own plane. He escaped with only a bump when the two bombs on his wings thankfully failed to explode on impact. Then Captain Grasselli would be awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and seven Air Medals for his extraordinary action against enemy forces in Korea.

As a Marine pilot, he flew with such well known pilots as John Glenn, Charles Lindberg, and Ted Williams whose photographs or names are prominently displayed on the front page of various newspapers hanging on the walls inside the FPA. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1960 and would go on to become vice president of Rockwell International. Since his retirement from Rockwell in 1984 he has done what he told me he loves to do: write for military magazines about his experiences. And he routinely visits the Front Page where he is happy to share his stories. He even has his own dedicated booth at FPA, complete with a plaque honoring his service in the dining area which he proudly points to. He jokes about Jorge giving him his own plaque then points to the plaques honoring each of the five military services above the bar - although he would still like Jorge to take down the ones for the Army and Navy!!

He closed our conversation with a story about George Burns. When asked how to live to be 100, Burns said he smoked a cigar or two a day and drank one or two martinis a day. Asked how his doctor felt about it Burns said: "he's dead!" Al promised to return to FPA to celebrate his 100th birthday but until then don't be surprised to see him following in Burns' footsteps, sitting with his friends and family at his booth sipping on a martini - very dry and on time!