Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Father Jim Grant: Before priesthood, there was the South Pacific
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the July 28, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Father James Grant shows off a display case featuring his military medals, including a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. (IR photo by Mitch Finley)
Father Jim Grant isn’t about to forget that what he loves best is being a priest. Not to put the cart before the horse, but when two visitors – this writer and the pastor of Spokane’s Sacred Heart Parish, Father Mark Pautler – announced their departure from his room at St. Joseph Care Center, Father Grant wouldn’t let either head for the door until he had given each his blessing, and no nonsense about it.
With the 60th anniversary of V-J day next month, Father Grant’s story becomes even more topical.
He is unique among priests of the Diocese of Spokane because he served in the U.S. Army during World War II, participated in combat in the South Pacific, and received medals for his contributions, including the Bronze Star, the World War II Victory Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, a Marksmanship Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre Medal with three Battle Stars, the American Campaign Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Purple Heart – that last, because he was wounded in battle.
“Nothing much,” Father Grant explains modestly, “just a flesh wound in my left arm.”
Young James Grant served in the 96th Infantry Division, Company F, Second Platoon, as a Private First Class.
James Grant was a student at the University of Illinois, in Champaign, as World War II got underway, but the government had a program whereby college students could enlist but have a standby status, so they wouldn’t be required to go on active duty right away. “So I did that,” Father Grant explained. Later, however, he was called to active duty and reported to Camp Joseph C. Robinson, in Arkansas. “We went there for basic training, and I went from there to Camp White, on the Oregon coast, where they got us ready to go overseas.”
PFC James Grant. (IR photo from Father James Grant)
Following more training at Camp White, “where we learned to handle ourselves and our gear and rifles in the water, and how to abandon ship,” young Grant and his compatriots shipped out for Hawaii – “it might have been Pearl Harbor,” Father Grant says. “After they gave us more training there, they decided to send us to a more active place, so they loaded us aboard ship, and we headed for Leyte, in the Philippines.”
Father Grant recalls that “things were kind of bad there. I lost a few buddies, and a couple of my real good friends were killed. Fortunately, nothing happened to me. I was just there.” The stay in Leyte lasted “two or three months.”
Following “a short break,” Private Grant and his fellow soldiers were sent to Okinawa. “We had some battle shooting there, and that’s where I got wounded in my left arm. It was a very minor wound, and so I was in the hospital for, oh maybe three weeks or so. After the time in the hospital I was reassigned from the 96th Infantry Division to a non-combat engineering division, and I worked as an engineer, just serving my time as an engineer. And after that they decided that I would go home. So they gave me a few interviews, and I went by ship back to San Francisco, and from there by train to Chicago, and there I was discharged.”
In a book published following World War II by Father Grant’s alma mater, he is quoted summarizing his military service thus: “Took part in invasion of Leyte, Philippine Islands, October 20, 1944.
“After Leyte campaign went to Samar, Philippine Islands to guard Air Strip. Took part in invasion of Okinawa Shima, Ryukus Islands, April 1, 1945. Wounded April 19, 1945 near Tanaburu, Okinawa.”
Back home, army veteran Grant decided to complete his college education, so he returned to the University of Illinois with the goal of becoming a history teacher. “I got kind of disinterested in history, and a good friend of mine was studying geology, so I got interested in geology, and that became my major, and I got my bachelor’s degree in geology.”
Following graduation, James went to work for the U.S. Geological Survey, in the Spokane area, where his parents had moved after the war. After working at this job for a while, however, in 1951 he decided to give the seminary a try.
“I visited a couple of friends of mine who were at St. Edward Seminary, in Kenmore (located just outside Seattle), and I decided it was worth a try. It looked kind of interesting. I wasn’t too sure, but I thought I’d give it a year, and see what happens. I enjoyed it there.”
Forty-nine years ago, in 1956, Father Grant was the first priest of the Spokane Diocese ordained by Bishop Bernard Topel. “My first parish was St. Patrick in Walla Walla,” said Father Grant. But that’s the beginning of another story…