Archive for Wednesday, June 14, 2006

McLouth teen would have started in Army this week

June 14, 2006

Two tragic coincidences.

Early last Wednesday, Damien Grammer waited in a local hospital as his friend, Johnathon Osburn, recovered from injuries he sustained in a vehicle accident the night before.

Less than 24 hours later, the 18-year-old Grammer also was in an accident.

Unlike his friend, though, Grammer did not survive the wreck.

A 2006 McLouth High School graduate, Grammer was killed in an automobile accident midday Wednesday about five miles west of Tonganoxie.

The MHS graduate spent much of his senior year making preparations for the Army, as he planned to begin a career in the military.

On Monday, the 18-year-old Grammer would have started boot camp.

Less than a month before, Grammer was walking across the stage with his classmates at the McLouth Sports Complex to receive his high school diploma.

Just after noon last Wednesday, Grammer was driving north on 251st Street when he failed to yield to traffic on Kansas Highway 16, Kansas Highway Patrol reports said. A 2002 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Richard Morando, 47, Tonganoxie, was headed east on K-16 when Grammer's 1996 Geo Metro was headed across the highway. The two vehicles collided. Grammer's car came to rest in the north ditch when another vehicle, a 2005 Ford Focus, driven by Emma Ussery, 63, Ozawkie, struck Morando's truck. Mary Bliss, 47, Kansas City, Mo., was a passenger in Ussery's car. She was treated and released from the University of Kansas Hospital, as was Morando, a hospital official said Tuesday. Ussery was not listed as a patient, the official said.

Lynette Berta, 20, Topeka, was a passenger with Grammer, reports also said. She was taken to Stormont-Vail in Topeka where she was treated and released.

Damien's father, Wayne Grammer, said Berta was a cousin of Osburn's and also stayed with him after his vehicle accident the night before.

About 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, Damien had called home and told his father he would be staying at Osburn's house, which is about two miles north of where Damien's accident occurred. That phone conversation was the last time Wayne spoke with his son. His wife, LeAnna, saw Damien about 8 a.m. for the final time, as she went to see her son at Osburn's house that morning, Wayne said.

The Army's tribute

At Damien's funeral, Army officials presented Damien's family with an American flag.

During the service, a trumpeter played "Taps." In addition, the military paid for Damien's coffin and headstone.

Military personnel also brought Damien from the hospital to the funeral home in Kansas City, Kan., and then to the McLouth Church of the Nazarene, where funeral services were held, before being taken to the McLouth Cemetery. A soldier was nearby at all times.

Wayne said he was amazed by everything the Army did for Damien and their family. He was especially appreciative of Sgt. John Zvirgzdins, who recruited Damien from his Lawrence office.

Even though Damien hadn't yet served in the Army, Wayne said Zvirgzdins told him the Army honored him because "he signed on the dotted line; that's all the proof we needed right there."

The Army also promoted him to private first-class.

"It just shows the Army is not about Afghanistan and Iraq, it's about a brotherhood and about being a team," Wayne said. "It was quite incredible what they did for him."

Proud teachers

MHS principal John Hamon spoke highly of Damien.

"He was really excited about joining the Army," Hamon said.

Hamon described Damien as "just a good honest kid" who usually had a smile on his face.

Instructor John Carney, who is retired from the Army, spoke about the military on occasion with Damien.

"In a very short sentence, he was an individual who was dedicated to his future," Carney said. "This whole year, he did nothing but work toward that goal.

"He was a dedicated brother to his sister (Ashley) who will be a senior next year."

Carney also described Damien as "a very happy-go-lucky guy."

"He wore braces," Carney said. "You could always see the braces. He was always smiling."

The MHS teacher also noted that Damien had a knack for losing his homework.

"Sometimes he could come up with every excuse in the world to lose his homework," Carney said. "He never used the same excuse."

The bottom line for Carney, however, was that Damien, who also worked at the Fastrax Conoco in Tonganoxie, had his priorities straight.

"The fact he had his future planned out -- that showed me he was a dedicated individual and he was willing to help others," Carney said.

Damien played football at McLouth his sophomore and junior years, but a nagging knee injury kept him out his senior year.

Damien wanted to play his senior year, but he eventually decided not to play in case he got injured and then couldn't join the Army.

"I think it bothered him," Wayne said. "He wanted to play, but I think he thought his career was more important then playing football because he knew he wouldn't have a career in football."

Classmates' plans

Jason McGhee, who was the class president for the 2006 senior class, said classmates planned to plant trees for Damien and another classmate, Chris Latham, who died two years ago.

McGhee said the class hoped to have a memorial somewhere on the school district campus with two trees -- each representing their two classmates -- and a bench. McGhee said he didn't know what kind of trees they would plant, but hoped to plant blossoming trees, one with purple foliage and the other with gold to represent the school colors.

And Friday, the class plans to meet at the Leavenworth County State Lake, where Damien tried to catch many a fish, for a gathering in Damien's honor.

The week before, classmates originally planned a party for Damien -- a send-off before he was to leave for basic training.

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