Although my friend George Michael Gratzer long ago returned from Viet Nam he might have spent the next nearly 50 years searching for a way home.
His constant pain from war wounds finally allayed after leaving this earth last week, Sonny lived a rough and tumble road but left an indelible mark for far different reasons on his friends as well as his enemies.
It was so ironic that as I got into my truck after Gratzer’s recent memorial the 2005 lyrics of Toby Keith’s “Let’s get drunk and be somebody” blared from my speakers.
Ironic you see because Sonny Gratzer, the “Butte Rat,” described as the toughest guy to walk the streets of the Mining City, certainly didn’t need alcohol to be somebody.
My friend, who I saw far too little in recent years, consistently proved to be somebody in a far away land when just staying alive to return from Southeast Asia was in most cases the main object.
Former Governor Judy Martz, a childhood family friend, said Sonny was a Butte original who garnered a degree of unparallel respect.
Wounded twice in his first deployment after being commissioned as an infantry officer through what was then named Montana State University, Gratzer rotated out with a fistful of medals including the prestigious Silver Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Commendation Medal with two stars and two Purple Hearts for his injuries.
He returned in country, in Feb., 1968, during the furious Tet Offensive.
Now a Captain, Gratzer was shot through the spine and internal organs while attempting to save the life of one of his men.
His heroic efforts earned a chest full of even more recognition including a second Silver Star, one of this Nation’s most prominent medals.
“It was a long and arduous deal,” he told me for a 2000 Missoulian story about fire fights when defending a hot landing zone where he again sustained serious wounds.
“(Gratzer) skillfully and courageously exposed himself to extreme enemy fire,” read the military citation. “His actions contributed immeasurably to (his) battalion’s success and helped save the lives of his men.”
Sonny was told he would never walk again but no doubt pushed by his Butte mentality struggled through physical therapy to teach himself how, albeit sometimes with some assistance.
Returning to grad school, he earned his MFA in creative writing at the University of Montana and was a prolific writer authoring several books of poetry and a novel.
But there was always the pain, mental as arduous as physical.
“Viet Nam scars cross my heart and hope my soul dies,” he wrote in 1997 in “General Issue Blues, Viet Nam to Here: A Warrior’s Tour. “To hide my grief, my pain, and my sorrow. There is nowhere to camouflage myself to be unseen.”
Rest easy my good friend. I am honored to have known you.