– Truly being a Soldier is more than putting on a uniform; anyone can do that, it is agreeing to live by a set of values. From basic training, the Army Values are drilled into every recruit; Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Integrity, Honor and Personal Courage.
These values are not reserved for the combat zone or garrison duty; they are not reserved for service members of higher rank. While you can find many Soldiers who are fine examples of the Army Values throughout the military, one Soldier recently stood out: Sgt. Edward Grace.
“How bad is it?” Eugene Grace asked his older brother Edward, “Are you dying?”
This was not a conversation Eugene Grace had planned on having when he heard that Edward had been medically evacuated from Afghanistan. The brothers both held the rank of specialist and had deployed together as infantrymen with the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard. Edward served with Charlie Company and Eugene with Delta Company.
While this was Edward’s first deployment it was Eugene’s fourth. He had served eight years in the Marine Corps, deploying to Afghanistan as part of the initial invasion, returning years later for another deployment as well as serving a tour in Iraq. When he left the Corps, Eugene did not immediately join the Guard, he transitioned into civilian life.
During a conversation one day, Edward asked if Eugene was interested in joining the Guard. “He actually asked me to go on this deployment,” said Eugene, “they wanted prior service guys." Eugene joined the Guard.
Even though they served in separate units and were stationed on separate bases, they both had the same mission; providing security to Provincial Reconstruction Teams. These teams are constantly on the move; traveling throughout Afghanistan and interacting with local leaders and the general population in an effort to improve the quality of life for the average Afghan citizen and strengthen the relationship between the inhabitants and Afghan Government. Because of this type of mission and the long hours it required, the brothers kept in touch with each other through e-mails and Skype when possible.
One day a call went out on Edward’s base for blood donors, a fellow Soldier was in need of blood and Edward responded. Stepping up to help other Soldiers was nothing new for Edward. “He was an exceptional Soldier,” said Sgt. 1st Class James Sicard, Edward’s platoon sergeant before he deployed, “He always helped out others; that was his nature … to not only his job but to go above and beyond and work with others to help them out too.”
A routine test of his blood revealed that something was wrong. Edward underwent a series of testing and a diagnosis came back; cancer. He was sent to Germany for further testing.
Brig. Gen. John A. Hammond, commander of the 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Massachusetts Army National Guard, presented Edward with the Bronze Star Medal. “There are Soldiers more deserving of this medal back in the platoon,” Hammond remembers Edward telling him, “My mission is now to get better and return as quickly as possible.”
As he was leaving, Edward was trying to look out for his fellow Soldiers and keep their spirits up. “Don’t be sad for me sir, I’m still here, I still have air in my lungs,” he told 1st Lt. Robert Mulhern, his platoon leader, “I will see you guys again.”
By the time Eugene was informed that something was wrong with his brother, Edward was on his way to Germany. “They really didn’t tell me the reason why at first,” recalled Eugene, “they just told me he had an illness and that they sent him for testing.”
At first Eugene wasn’t worried. “It could have been worse,” said Eugene, “He could have got shot or blown up or something. (An) Illness, we can deal with. He’ll get checked out, do what he has to do and then come back.”
But Edward didn’t immediately return to Afghanistan. The tests in Germany revealed a cancerous tumor and he was sent to the Wounded Warrior Unit at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment. By this time Eugene, who had come home for leave and due to return to Afghanistan in a few days, was able to call Edward.
The tumor was removed and the doctors at Walter Reed discovered that Edward had an aggressive form of cancer which had already spread throughout his body.
“The first time I met him (Edward) was when I was notified that we had a Soldier at Walter Reed,” said State Command Sgt. Maj. David Costa, Massachusetts National Guard, “What we (Massachusetts National Guard senior leaders) try to do is visit as many Soldiers as possible who are in the Wounded Warrior Units. Soldier’s who are being treated at Walter Reed, or any other military hospital, we make it a point to go see them,” said Costa.
These types of visits are important for many reasons; they allow the state to make sure that their Soldiers are getting the medical care that they need as well as letting the Soldier know that they have not been forgotten and that they have a connection back home if the need arises.
“When we first met him, his motivation led us to believe that it was something he could beat,” said Costa, “It was surprising; he looked like someone who didn’t belong in the hospital.”
When Costa met Edward, he didn’t know that the Edward’s cancer was in an advanced stage. “He was aware that he had cancer,” recalled Costa, “He kept saying he was going to beat this, it was just another challenge, he used those words, I was impressed.”
While they were talking, Costa made Edward one of his standard offers. “When you say ‘Is there anything I can do?’ one of the first things they ask for, and Sgt. Grace (Edward) was the same way, ‘Can you get me back to my unit?’ They all want to go back to their units before their units re-deploy (return home),” said Costa, “He was so concerned that his unit would re-deploy without him … that was his biggest concern.”
Edward was so upbeat and had such a positive attitude, that when Costa left the room, he had no doubt that Edward would be returning to duty. “He had me convinced that things were going to be ok,” said Costa, “He put me at ease.” Costa left the room to visit other Soldiers and Sgt. 1st Class Felicia Pinckney and a second group of Massachusetts Guardsmen entered the room.
Edward was so positive in the fact that he was going to beat his form of cancer that Pinckney also left the room sure that he would be able to return his unit
Unfortunately that was not the case.
Edwards’s condition worsened. He was moved into a small apartment on the facility where he continued to receive treatment and have his family with him. Arraignments were made for Eugene to leave Afghanistan and see Edward.
When Edward began to rapidly deteriorate, Costa and other members of the command group headed to Walter Reed to offer support and assistance. Costa remembered that the Grace family welcomed him and the other Soldiers as old friends, even though they hadn’t spent a lot of time together.
Later that night, Edward passed away.
A combination of weather and logistical/mechanical issues delayed Eugene; he arrived back in the United States after Edward had passed away.
“In his life, during his sickness and as he faced his death, he lived as a Soldier in accordance to our Warrior Ethos: he placed the mission first; he accepted the diagnosis but not defeat; he never quit, even in the face of arduous medical treatment,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, The Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard, during Edward’s funeral. “He did not leave his fellow soldiers behind, choosing rather to keep them all uppermost in his heart and serving with them to the end,” he said.
Even in death Edward wanted to help his fellow Soldiers; he donated some of his organs to Walter Reed.
Edward was laid to rest on Jan. 18, 2012, with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.