As Haiti Action Looms, Parents Relive Loss In Grenada A Son's Death Is Used As A Plea Against Intervention.

Posted: September 18, 1994

WORCESTER, Mass. — In a tidy den of cozy sofas and homey bric-a-brac, a large color photograph dominates one wall. A black beret plunges sharply over the young man's forehead. Jump wings and rifle ribbons adorn his loden green uniform. And on his shoulder - his prize of prizes - the gold-on-black patch of the elite Army Rangers.

It's the picture that sat atop Sgt. Philip S. Grenier's coffin. Dead at 21, his visage frozen for all time.

He died 11 years ago when the United States invaded a small Caribbean nation. Nineteen American soldiers were killed in the skirmish that made Grenada a deadly footnote in the broader history of war.

Now, with the specter of a Haitian invasion moving closer, another Caribbean nation is threatened with assault, and Grenier's parents are speaking out.

"Even as this Haiti thing was gearing up, we looked at each other and said, 'Oh God, someone is going to go through what we went through,' " said Gloria Grenier, a retired teacher in her early 60s, sipping tea beside her husband, Jean, and reliving the loss they commemorate by lighting Philip's communion candle at family gatherings and decorating his grave at Christmas.

"What's happening in Haiti is a civil affair. The United States doesn't have a right to get involved in a civil war any more than anyone had a right to get involved in our Civil War," said Jean Grenier, 63, a retired machinist who is a veteran of 24 years in the Air National Guard.

"I feel that you can do much more with a country, with an enemy, or anyone you disagree with by learning their ways, dealing with them and talking with them and having a positive kind of relationship rather than a negative one," Jean Grenier said.

"Prior to Philip's death, I would have been much more ready to send in troops. (His death) changed my perception. . . . There's not enough focus on the body bags and too much on the hoopla. Even when the senators get up and say, 'It's not worth even one American life' . . . that doesn't say it. . . . They should show the mothers and the fathers and the tears and what the hell has happened to these families four and five years afterward."

For the Greniers, word of Philip's death came through a soldier dispatched

from nearby Fort Devens to carry the news. The couple were out celebrating the birthday of another son when neighbors called at 10 at night to say they were needed at home right away.

First came the crushing fact of the death, then frustrating efforts to learn precisely what had happened. To this day the Greniers live with conflicting versions of the incident that took Philip's life. Gloria Grenier, a soft-spoken woman with short gray hair, leaves the room whenever her husband talks about it.

"As best I could determine, the First Ranger Battalion had already packed up and left. The Second Battalion was ready to go and in fact was turning in its ammunition when somebody came along and said, 'Don't turn it, we've got another mission,' " Jean Grenier recalled, adjusting his gold-rimmed glasses and running a hand over his thatchy gray crewcut.

The Rangers boarded helicopters and headed for a nearby hill. As the aircraft hovered for a landing, the pilot of Philip's ship was hit by hostile fire. The helicopter pitched violently. One Ranger tumbled to the ground, breaking his back. Philip jumped out to assist the fallen soldier. Passing in front of the out-of-control helicopter, he either "took a round in the back of the neck, or was hit by a rotor blade," his father said.

After notification by the Army, the President sent the family a letter.

Jean Grenier recalled: " 'Dear Mr. and Mrs. Grenier, we are sorry to hear that your Marine son Sgt. Grenier was killed in Grenada.' He didn't even know what branch of the service (Philip) was in. The President of the United States. Reagan. I still have the original copy. We called them and told them and they said, 'Oh, please send us back the letter.' I said, 'Like hell I will. I got it. I'm keeping it. No way I'm sending you that letter.' "

For the Greniers, who live in a white house with blue shutters and a large American flag planted prominently on the porch, there was the comfort of neighbors in their tight-knit community of vinyl-sided ranches and colonials. There was also the support of their other children, two sons and a daughter, all veterans of military service.

And, oddly enough, the very public nature of their son's death, the local and national news coverage, the outpouring by the community, the solicitous military bereavement officer all provided a welcome structure for their sorrow.

"It gave us," Jean Grenier recalled, "a natural way to mourn."

Since the day their youngest son died in combat, the Greniers have had four grandchildren.

"We've seen our grandchildren grow, and many times we look at each other and we say, 'If Philip was alive, would he be married, would he have children?' That's what you lose. You lose the future," Jean Grenier said. ''And we were young enough when it happened that we're going to feel it for a long time."

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