Letters to the Editor
May 21, 2020
Letter to the editor,
I enjoyed reading your recent article featuring one of my favorite teachers, Fred Gritman.
I remember Fred as my industrial arts and shop teacher. He exemplified leadership, competence, and confidence. He was also free and giving with his vast knowledge. He gave us the skills and confidence to build projects from beginning to end.
Teaching can be difficult, especially in a workshop environment. Fred had tremendous patience with us. I only saw him upset once, and it was because of a student-caused safety issue. He used the incident as a teaching opportunity.
Because of Fred, I graduated from Dayton High School with the training to make plans and engineering drawings. In his classes we made furniture and useful items in metal and wood. When I went out into the world, I had practical skills that I put to use drafting for an architecture firm and building houses. I owe him dearly for the preparation he gave me.
As a high schooler, I wondered how Fred had acquired so many skills. I think most of the students felt the same way. I know that Fred excelled during his combat engineer training during World War II. He mastered bridge building, assault breeching, mine and counter-mine operations, demolitions, and a hundred specialized engineer skills until he graduated and earned his castle, the insignia of US Army Engineers. I am also an alumnus of the Army Engineer School and Fort Leonard Wood, attending many years after Fred.
As noted in the article, Fred was a member of the 361st Regimental Combat Team of the 91st Division. The team was composed of the 361st Infantry and combat engineer and artillery units. The 361st RCT fought hard to establish a beachhead at Anzio on June 1, 1944.
I should clarify that when Fred mentions in the article that disabling the German mines “was sometimes very exciting”. You must try to imagine the grim conditions he faced in battle. Machine guns and rifle fire, German artillery and booby traps. The Germans had excellent engineers and they would often bury multiple mines vertically (one on top of the other). Pressure sensitive “mouse traps” would fire the underlying mine when an American engineer tried to remove the top mine. As the fighting progressed, combat engineers developed special tools to defuse or detonate these obstacles. The 91st division suffered 8,744 total casualties. That gives us some idea of the ferocity of the fighting. Combat Engineers lead the way. Fred Gritman was in the vanguard.
Fred’s 91st Division is officially bestowed with the time-honored nickname, “Wild West Division” as a special unit designation. The motto of the outfit is “Powder River, Let’er Buck!”
He is part of a special lineage that stretches back to 1775. In fact, there is a regimental muster of every combat engineer who has served our country as far back as the allied French engineers who organized the first miners and sappers during the American Revolution.
I recently learned that I am a distant relation to Fred. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that sometimes in my work I have wondered, “What would Fred do in this situation?” Then I remember. Start with first principles; proper planning, make it as simple as possible, and no simpler. Make it well. Make it to last.