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Green Beret from Bay Area remembered as tough, tender

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He had his tough side. As a kid he loved backpacking, camping, boating, flying down zip lines and a vigorous game of capture-the-flag. Sgt. 1st Class James F. Grissom was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army, after all.

But the 550 people who filled San Leandro's Fairhaven Bible Chapel two weeks ago to remember Grissom were reminded that he also had his soft side.

Grissom 31, of Hayward, died March 21 at Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center of wounds suffered in a small-arms firefight March 18 in Paktika province, Afghanistan.


FOR THE RECORD:
Military deaths: The obituary in the April 28 California section about the death of Sgt. 1st Class James F. Grissom said he was a member of an Army airborne Special Services battalion. He was a member of an airborne Special Forces group. —


A member of an Army airborne Special Services battalion based at Lewis-McChord Joint Base in Washington, Grissom was in his fifth overseas deployment.

Born Sept. 9, 1981, at Eden Hospital in Castro Valley, Grissom grew up in Hayward.

As a preschooler, he collected bugs in plastic film canisters. "He'd explain, 'I'm a scientist,' " recounted Kevin Cooper, who later would teach Grissom's Sunday-school class for teens at Fairhaven Bible Chapel.

Grissom was known as James to his young friends, primarily because "in school there were way too many Jimmys," Cooper said.

When his father drove him to elementary school, young Grissom came up with a strategy to prevent classmates from teasing about the farewell hug and kiss he always gave his dad: He would lead his father behind the car and out of their view for the embrace.

Cooper's voice broke as he related to those at the memorial service how Grissom fine-tuned that morning ritual when his father dropped him off at middle school and high school. "He'd say, 'What about those 'Niners!' It was his secret phrase that meant 'I love you,' " Cooper said.

Ed MacDonald, who taught a Bible study that Grissom attended, recalled how the teenager would mesmerize others in the class by pretending to catch imaginary flies flitting above his head. "James was quirky. He was unique," he said.

MacDonald told of Grissom's contributions to Mt. Eden High School, where he was a 1999 graduate. When school's choral director put out a campus-wide dragnet to fill the ranks of the "Sharks" for the campus production of "West Side Story," Grissom found himself on the stage. He ended up performing in the musical "Grease" and joining the school chorus — perhaps prompted by word that the choral group was planning a trip in coming months to Hawaii.

"He had all the moves in 'West Side Story' and 'Grease,' but he couldn't sing," MacDonald said, provoking laughter from those at the service.

In honor of their friend, about 50 alumni of the 1999 choral group reunited at the memorial service to sing.

Grissom's high school teachers described him as a talented artist who designed and constructed sets for school productions and created computer mouse pads. Some of those mouse pads are still used in classrooms nearly 15 years later, teachers Kenneth Rawdon and Bill Sandau told the Hayward Daily Review.

After high school, Grissom studied computer animation at the Art Institute of California-San Francisco, earning an associate of arts degree before moving to Santa Monica in search of work. When he was unsuccessful at launching his career, he joined the Army in June 2003.

In 2006, he married Angela Eastman, whom he met in the Seattle area while stationed at Fort Lewis.

In addition to his wife, Grissom is survived by his parents, Jim and Peggy Grissom, sister Becca Grissom of Sacramento and grandparents James and Dorothy Grissom of Hayward.

Interment will take place May 20 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, family members said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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