Clyde Beal: Man’s life full of serving his country and his community
Charles Grounds doesn’t have a man cave, it’s called a War Room and rightfully so as the room offers a glimpse into the history of 21 years with the United States Marine Corps. Everything within this room reflects a living experience with the Marine Corps. From the throw rug embellished with the Marine Corps insignia to the walls laden with military memorabilia, awards, decorations, newspaper clippings, diplomas, a bookcase full of history and a crisp, wide-brim Marine Corps campaign hat hanging at eye level. The room encompasses his military career with the noted exception of an in depth collection of John Wayne movies stashed behind the closet door.
“I was born in 1939 at home in Ironton, Ohio,” said Grounds. “My father worked for a family owned coal mine with shafts so small he couldn’t stand upright. He found work in Florida with the railway when I was two, so we moved south. Ten years later Dad was hired by the Nickel Plant and we bought 27 acres out behind Barboursville.”
Their farmhouse didn’t have an indoor bathroom until their father saved enough money to build one. As a 12-year-old, Grounds reluctantly became a farmhand, hauling coal and firewood, working in the cornfield and the dreadful strawberry patch he learned to hate.
“I did get a single-shot .22 Remington rifle,” said Grounds. “I enjoyed hunting squirrels with it. I think I just liked the solitude of being alone in the woods. We had a lazy, lay-around, overweight boxer dog named Big Boy that followed me everywhere. Never did see him run, but we were great buddies.”
Grounds said he’s unwilling to divulge Halloween pranks of old because he’s unsure of the statute of limitations. Thanksgiving was made special with his mother’s cooking, a house full of relatives and the homemade ice cream he personally prepared himself. He says the Christmas present he remembers best was the Hopalong Cassidy outfit complete with twin smoking hot cap pistols.
“I used to go with my father to sell produce from the back of his truck at the old Sixth Street market in Huntington,” said Grounds. “Dad would trade and I would sit around listening to the old-timers talk about the ’37 flood and the hard times that followed. Never spent much time in Huntington, Barboursville had the Criss Theater near the library, admission was 15 cents and if John Wayne was on the silver screen, I’d be there.”
Grounds would walk to Morris Grocery on Route 10 to catch the school bus. The store was family-owned and provided a pick and pay by the month style of bookkeeping - a store that, according to Grounds, sold just about everything but furniture and appliances.
“Went to Dreamland pool once or twice,” he said. “I enjoyed the river more. A few of us boys build a raft once and decided to see how far down the river we could float. The experience was short-lived when it began to self-destruct, so we headed for shore. There was a baseball field behind the Comeback Inn on Route 10. We’d play pickup games there on occasions. I did sell the Grit newspaper door to door for a while. Didn’t have many customers.”
Grounds talked about a schoolteacher he learned to appreciate and love named Ms. Milum, a teacher who once told him he had great potential but he was lazy and until he changed he would never discover his worth. Several years later, he had the opportunity to meet her again and told her how much those words directed his life.
“When I started Barboursville Junior High I decided to play football,” said Grounds. “I quit before too long because I didn’t like practice or being told what to do by the coach. How’s that sound coming from a career Marine?”
Grounds graduated from Barboursville High in 1957. One month later, his father told him he would be expected to help pay for sleeping and eating at home, so he should find work.
“A week later I went to the Huntington recruiting center to enlist in any branch of the military,” said Grounds. “I think what I wanted more than anything was to see some of the world outside of West Virginia. The Air Force recruiter’s office had a sign that said they were out for lunch, the sign on the Navy recruiter’s door said they would be back in 20 minutes, but the Marine recruiter was in and waiting, dressed in the sharpest, well-detailed uniform I had ever seen. A no-nonsense kind of guy who told me if I passed the physical I’d be on my way to boot camp before the hometown girls knew I was gone. I began my military career in August of 1957 and retired in August of 1978. It was a decision that Ms. Milum would have approved of because the military became a foundation that built my future on. Every waking minute of boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, is well-orchestrated.”
After surviving 16 weeks of boot camp, Grounds spent another four weeks at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for weapons training, then back to South Carolina at Merritt Field for training on the F8U fighter jet. Then a year assigned to the aircraft carrier Coral Sea working on fighter jets. As the years passed, the assignments began accumulating. Assignments that included two tours in Vietnam. The second tour involved duties as a crew chief and machine gunner on a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter.
“In 1967 my high school sweetheart finally cornered me at the church altar. It did no good telling her I was a Marine with little time; the marriage worked and it’s still working today. Against all odds, Diana became the stabilization point in my life. For the last 40 years, I have placed a handwritten note under her morning cup of coffee.”
His career continued after discharge working with disabled veterans at the VA. He later worked as a full-time director of children ministries at Fellowship Baptist Church in Barboursville. He finally retired in 2001 after working 21 years with the state as a disabled veterans representative.
“Diana and I had four beautiful children,” said Grounds. “We have a grandson who is making a career in the Air Force, we jokingly tell him he was removed from our will.”
Grounds was among those on board last October’s Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. He said it was the most unbelievable experience of outpouring hospitality and appreciation toward the military he has ever witnessed.