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Veteran celebrates 101st birthday, was liaison and translator in WWII

Candles spelling "Happy Birthday" (Ed g2s/WikiCommons)

Adolph Grams’ bright blue eyes sparkled behind black frames as he recalled arriving back in the United States with about 17,000 troops after World War II ended in Europe.

Several miles out from New York City, the captain began to cut the engines of the massive Queen Elizabeth ocean liner so it would slow in time for berthing. All along the shores of the Hudson River, crowds cheered and shouted “welcome home” as the powerful ship, so fast it had eluded German submarines, was escorted by dozens of fireboats, many spraying water.

It was an emotional time for Grams, a native of Ralston, in Adams County, and an Army first lieutenant who played a role in the surrender of Germany as a U.S. liaison and translator. Because he spoke German fluently, Grams was chosen by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, to visit the headquarters of the 19th German Army and provide Eisenhower’s instructions on the disposition of all military hardware to the Allied forces.

Grams celebrated his 101st birthday Monday with his daughter and son, Cindy Tutsch of Yakima and David Grams of Rapidan, Va., in his room at Cottage in the Meadow. He cheerfully credited them with helping him reach that age and thanked everyone else who helped him get there.

“It feels like 101,” Grams said to soft laughter. “I’m very grateful and thankful that the Lord has blessed me with 101 years … I thought I was getting old when I hit 100. It’s just hard to believe that mankind can live that long.”

With a few balloons and a birthday carrot cake marking the occasion, Grams talked about growing up near Ritzville with five sisters, the children of wheat farmers and cattle ranchers. His ancestors were Germans from Russia who had lived in Bessarabia before coming to the United States.

The family still spoke German at home when Grams started attended country schools. He didn’t know much English but learned quickly, graduated from Ritzville High School and enlisted in the Army once World War II began. After joining the Army, he married Winifred Jean Williams, whom he had dated for several years. They were married 64 years when she died in 2008.

War in Europe

Serving in the 44th Infantry Division, Grams and fellow troops debarked in Scotland to skirt a pack of German submarines before taking trains to southern England and crossing the Channel for France. He was in Austria as the European Theater was coming to a close. When Eisenhower needed a translator, he looked to Grams, who was the official spokesman for his unit because of his fluency.

“I was chosen because I did a lot of work for General Eisenhower,” Grams said. Eisenhower wrote a special letter allowing Grams, a first lieutenant, to take on the responsibility.

In summing up his memories on paper, Grams talked about the harrowing scene as he and a major were driven to Imst, Austria, after the May 1945 unconditional surrender of all German military forces. They were to meet with the German officers and give them instructions.

“As we broke out on that plateau, to my alarm for a mile or two I could see nothing but German troops fully armed, standing as statues as we slowly approached,” Grams wrote. “The driver had stopped the Jeep approximately 10 feet from the soldiers who were all over the road and covered the plateau as far as the eye could see.”

Choosing quick and dramatic action, Grams hopped out of the Jeep, found a top-ranking noncommissioned German officer and asked curtly where the German General Staff Headquarters were. The man pointed up the road, 3 or 4 kilometers away, and mentioned a large building with a sign.

The wall of soldiers parted at what seemed a glacial pace as the Jeep slowly proceeded to headquarters. Grams, his major and their driver walked into a massive hunting lodge and to a semicircle of general staff officers of the 19th German Army. The ranking general stepped forward with his hand extended, but Grams declined.

“He couldn’t shake the general’s hand,” his daughter noted, because of Eisenhower’s non-fraternizing policy prohibiting such a greeting between American and German soldiers. Grams then gave them instructions from the Supreme Allied General Headquarters about the procedure for surrendering all military hardware.

Another German officer introduced himself and talked about visiting the United States years earlier for an international athletic event. In that competition he had run the mile against Glenn Cunningham, Grams recalled. Cunningham is considered one of the greatest American milers and the German finished second or third behind him.

Despite that friendly conversation, Grams was glad to get out of there. “Our business was concluded quickly, and we returned without mishap, and with great relief,” he wrote.

After his time in Europe, Grams was to head to the Pacific Theater following a 30-day leave, but the war in the Pacific ended during that time. Grams left the Army to manage his uncle’s 2,000-acre wheat farm back home. He and Winifred married while he was in training, and their son and daughter were born in Spokane.

Grams later earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Andrews University and a master’s degree in counseling from Oregon State University. He became a teacher and dean of boys at different institutions. He was living with his daughter and her family when they moved from Tacoma to Yakima 3½ years ago.

Birthday celebration

His son, who was born during the war and was 5 months old when his father first got to hold him, sat by his father’s side as he talked Monday. “It’s pretty nice to be almost 75 years old and still have your dad,” David Grams said, beaming.

Along with his children and Cottage in the Meadow staff, a puppy made a brief visit. Maxie, an 8-week-old mix of Rottweiler, German shepherd and border collie, is a new addition to Tutsch and her family. She brought him in a basket and held him close for her dad to pet.

Adolph Grams has six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. One of his granddaughters is Elisabeth Tutsch, a commissioner at Yakima County Superior Court, and his great-grandchildren include her son, Wolf Nelson. Elisabeth Tutsch is proud of her Opa (which is German for grandpa), and glad to be in his family, her mother said in an email.

Later Monday, Grams enjoyed a haystack — a hot taco salad piled high with chips or rice, beans, lettuce, salsa, and more ingredients.

“It’s his all-time favorite,” she said. “He loved it.”


© 2020 Yakima Herald-Republic