Paul Charles Grassey, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Army Air Force, died peacefully in his sleep on April 11th at the age of 97 after a brief illness. Affectionately known to family and friends as “Big Paul”, Grassey enjoyed a long and rewarding life, including his final 32 years in Savannah, Georgia where he enjoyed retirement with his beloved wife Nancy, their friends, their passion for the game of golf, and a mutual devotion to The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, where Paul served for decades as a Board trustee and volunteer docent, spinning stories and conducting hundreds of educational tours, presentations, speeches, and interviews.
Paul Grassey was preceded in death by his first wife, Jeanne (Kiefer Overton), parents Henry and Bertha, brother Henry and wife Margaret, and daughters-in-law Deborah Stine Overton and Marilyn Murphy Overton. Paul is survived by Nancy, his wife of 61 years, their four children, including son Terry (Overton), son Robert and his partner (William King), son Gary and wife Tara, and daughter Marianne (Muse) and husband Steve; seven grandchildren, including Keith (Overton) and wife Cindi, Ken (Overton) and wife Valerie, Michael Brandt, Lauren (Stevens) and husband Charles, John Paul (“Jack”), Michael Crane, and Patrick; and five great grandchildren, including Ryan, Claire, Tilghman, Peri, and Matthew.
Grassey was born on July 27, 1923 in Glens Falls, NY. He graduated from Ridgewood (NJ) High School in 1941. After graduation, Paul traveled to Havana, Cuba with his father as the latter tried to find work to support his family. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Grassey joined the U.S. Army Air Force and began training at the Virginia Tech Military School in 1942. He learned to fly in Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi, ultimately receiving his wings in Stuttgart, Arkansas where he was assigned to pilot B-24s. After receiving orders to join the 446th Bomb Group, 704th Squadron, Eighth Air Force in Bungay, England, he flew a B-24 Liberator nicknamed “Lady Luck” on 13 combat missions over Europe in 1944-45.
On V-E Day in May 1945, while on a brief leave in London, Grassey watched and celebrated as the lights of the city were turned on again for the first time in years. Soon, he was ordered to return to the U.S. and begin training as a B-29 pilot in the Pacific theater. In August 1945, while en route to San Francisco by train, Grassey and his fellow servicemen received the news that Japan had surrendered, abruptly ending his active duty military career.
In 1946, Grassey enrolled as a student at Lafayette College in Easton, PA, where he earned his undergraduate degree and played baseball. During his senior year, Grassey, a catcher, helped lead coach Charlie Gelbert’s Lafayette squad to a deep NCAA tournament run that ended when the Leopards were eliminated by a Yale team whose lineup featured future President George H.W. Bush.
In Easton, Grassey married Jeanne (Kiefer Overton), a widow with a son, Terry, and whose first husband was killed in France during combat shortly after D-Day. After graduating from Lafayette, Grassey began his sales career in New York City with the Burroughs Corporation, where he would work for more than 30 years. In 1950, son Bob was born. Tragically, Jeanne passed away in 1959.
In a stroke of luck that would carry him for 61 years, Paul Grassey met Nancy (Steindl), a nurse in the U.S. Air Force, during the summer of 1959, shortly before she was scheduled to leave the country for a tour of duty in Spain. They were soon married, and settled in Glen Rock, NJ where Gary was born in 1960. Their daughter, Marianne, arrived in 1963. Eventually, Paul kept his promise and took Nancy to Spain.
Beyond Manhattan, Grassey’s work at Burroughs took him to Newark (NJ), Detroit, Wilmington (DE), Hempstead (NY), Syracuse (NY) and back to New York City again. Every stop along the way seemed to bring a new group of friends and characters who loved to work hard and play hard. While he loved sports, golf was Paul’s game of choice, as reflected in thousands and thousands of rounds on courses throughout the country, a 41-year attendance streak at The Masters in Augusta, GA with his Burroughs friends, the “Billy Blitz”, and a deep well of tall tales.
After retiring from Burroughs, Grassey continued his sales career at Data Systems of New Jersey, Sweda International, Credit Card Software Systems, and Heartland Bank - the latter two while living in Savannah. While work and golf fueled his boundless energy during retirement, Grassey’s most treasured mission and purpose were discovered when he became involved with the building, growth, and development of the The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, GA. The “MEW-zee-uhm”, as he called it, gave Paul focus and stirred a passion for sharing his stories about those who served during World War II. His tales ranged from personal memories and reflections to inspirational talks about the achievements, courage, and sacrifice of the people with whom he fought and served.
At the Mighty Eighth Museum, his favorite moments included providing tours and conversations with active duty military personnel, the families of veterans, as well as young students and their teachers. Grassey’s personal collection of wartime tales culminated in a book that he wrote and published at age 90 - It’s Character that Counts. Paul’s book chronicles the stories of six high school friends who, like him, enlisted in military service during December 1941. In his words, each of Paul’s friends represented one of six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.
Big Paul also loved music, especially the sounds of the Big Band Era and Frank Sinatra. He sang and even played the piano. His favorite tunes were The White Cliffs of Dover and Nancy (With the Laughing Face), a tribute to his bride which he performed frequently. In 2015, he collaborated with Mike Miller (piano), Doug Andrews (producer), and Andy Steigmeier (artwork) to create“Songs to Victory -Old Favorites and WWII Memories”, a CD to benefit the Mighty Eighth Museum, which included 11 patriotic songs and featured Grassey’s distinctive voice and style.
As The White Cliffs of Dover begins, Grassey explains the significance of the song to the warriors who flew across the English Channel: “As we approached England, we could see the White Cliffs from a couple miles away. As we neared the cliffs, we were happy to be the lucky few who survived that mission.” When he discussed those flights, he often added the words he told his crew: “We’re home guys.”
In 2019, as honored guests of the National World War II Museum and the Gary Sinise Foundation, Paul and Nancy traveled to Europe, where they participated in the 75th Anniversary of D-Day ceremonies at Normandy, France. This journey was the trip of a lifetime, as Grassey and his fellow veterans were honored on June 6th by President Macron of France, President Trump, and other dignitaries near the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
In January 2020, in a ceremony at the Mighty Eighth Museum, Grassey was awarded the Legion of Honour, France’s highest military honor. When asked about the award, Grassey reflected on the place that mattered most to him, saying, “It was 22 years ago when this museum started. It was 90 volunteers and 60 of us were veterans. They have all passed away. And what I got today is for them.”
On Friday, April 23, visitation will occur from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, Hodgson Chapel. On Saturday, April 24th at 11 a.m., a Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. James Catholic Church in Savannah, followed immediately by a brief reception with Paul’s family, observing Covid-19 protocols. Inurnment will be in Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, please consider sending donations either to The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force or Hospice Savannah, Inc.
Paul was a giant in the Mighty Eighth world and even larger as a dear friend. Prayers and condolences to Nancy and the entire Grassey family. As he would say to his crew after a mission in WWII, and after singing “White Cliffs of Dover”... “We’re home guys.” Thank you for a lifetime of wonderful memories.
- Andy &Carolyn, Savannah, GA
Paul is regaling St. Peter about his adventures and serenading the Heavenly Choir. He’s finished this final earthly mission, completed his tour of duty and is heading home.
- Al & Louise Pela, Pooler, Ga
We have no words strong enough to convey the sadness of Paul's passing. He was a friend to many and an inspiration to all. He certainly was an inspiration to us. We feel very blessed to have known him. He will be very very missed.
- George and Sharane Springer, Savannah, GA
I will miss Paul greatly! He was a wonderful person and an American Hero!
- Richard Sebolt , Savannah , GA
We lost a legend and a role model. Res t in peace my old friend.
- guy randolph, savannah, GA
Dear Nancy and Family, our prayers and condolences to everyone, we will always remember Paul as a true Hero and Patriot. His smile was a joy to everyone he met. May he rest in peace!
- Lou and Gerry Molella, Savannah, GA
I knew Paul as a true American Hero. I enjoyed talking with him and listening to his WW II songs at the Annual Savannah Navy League Christmas Parties. He was an inspiration.
- O. C. Fowler, Savannah, GA
Patriot, teacher, singer and author. Paul was a man of many talents and had the energy and Outlook of a man half his age. He was a true inspiration for many. I will never forget him and will be continued to be inspired by him. Rest in peace friend. Mike Monahan
- Mike Monahan, Savannah, GA
Paul was one of the finest gentleman I'd ever had the pleasure of meeting and it was such an honor to know him and to call him a friend. When you were with Paul you knew you were in the presence of greatness. Paul was always happy and made one feel better while around him. There are no words to thank Paul for his service to our country during World War II..and then all he's done for this community thereafter. I mourn his passing but knowing he's in a better place and reunited with his war buddies and others. Dear Paul...go with God!!!
- Bill Edwards, Savannah, Georgia
To Gary and family- my heart and prayers go out to all of Big Paul's family and friends. I pray for the peace his memories bring you all.
- Frank LaGrotta , Ellwood City , PA
To know Paul, was to love Paul, he will be missed by all who laughed at his jokes, listened to his emotional stories, and shared his friendship. Rest in Peace Paul.
- Andy D. D'Amato, Valrico, FL.
It was an honor for me to serve as a volunteer and docent with Paul and to see him awarded with the Legion of Honor last year at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. Rest in eternal peace, Paul.
- Ernie and Claire Hodge, Hinsdale , IL
I can't think of Paul without smiling. He was such a great guy and a truly great American. It was my privilege to serve with him on the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, it sure won't be the same without him. He will be missed. I am sure that he is already making Heaven a little brighter place.
- Don Brooks, DOUGLAS, GA
My deepest. Sympathy to Nancy & the family. Kathy. Levitt
- Kathy LEVITT, Savannah , Ga
Nancy and Family: I am so sorry to hear of Paul’s home going. We volunteered at the Mighty Eighth Museum from early 1996 until 2013 and I enjoyed every minute spent with him. He was truly an inspiration to be around.
- J Del Lamb, Savannah, Ga.
Seeing Paul (above) standing in front of the B-24, highlights the fact that only his B-24 could stand taller than Paul. EVERY parent should read a chapter each night to their child from Paul's book "It's Character That Counts." I firmly believe now that Paul is with "the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven" (BCP), including his buddies in his book referenced above (READ IT TO ANY YOUNG PERSON NEAR YOU). COL Pop Dolan will be the first to welcome him on a life Paul lived well because Paul also served well and fully. Pam & I thank you for your gift of friendship. Rest in peace Paul, above the clouds you loved to ride. Peace be with you, Nancy and family.
- Doug & Pam Andrews, Savannah, GA
As Paul would sing, " Don't know where, don't know when, but we'll meet again some sunny day". And this is my belief--see you again, my friend.
- Dan DeGood, Savannah, GA
I feel very fortunate to have met and was able to get to know Paul. He arranged and conducted 2 guided tours for our members of the Savannah Chapter of Catholic War Veterans (CWV). He will be missed by all. May he rest in peace.
- Norman Flojo, Savannah, GA
I can never express my most sincere condolences with Paul's passing. I worked with and picked at Paul for thirteen years. I will miss the comradeship we shared over the years. There will never be another one like him. Take care Nancy, and find some comfort in knowing that many prayers are going out for God's comforting hand for you and the family.
- Sonny Koski, Mount Vernon, GA
Bob and family: My thoughts are with you all during this time of loss. I read the book and really enjoyed it. Paul was a unique person.
- Byron Lee Burlingame, Aurora, CO
Paul composed songs and poems and shared them with the friends at the "Weekend" in Sea Isle City, N.J. It was there that we first met and I will never forget the gentleman that he was. May peace and love comfort his family.
- Russell A. Bertino, Ophelia, Virginia
Paul made the greatest generation proud with the way he gave of himself and shared his experiences. He will be missed.
- Bob & Rosemay Longueira , Savannah , Georgia
The world has lost a truly great man, husband, father and patriot. May the good Lord cover you with His peace and may angels walk with with you today and always.
- Rosemary & Bob Longueira , Savannah, GA
I will really miss my friend Paul ,and ,he has given me many fond memories to remember him by. We were in the same golf group for over 25 years. He was the star performer at the Christmas parties. He just couldn't wait to tell his stories and to sing for the group. Most importantly though was his looking out for my son Keith. He got Keith very involved at the Mighty 8 th . He was dedicated to helping others. Thanks Paul.
- mitchell ken, savannah, GA
My deepest condolences to Nancy and the family. Paul was a dear friend to my Father, Big Al Cairns and spent many Sea Isle City weekends with him . I remember great stories of their times there and golfing together. Paul was a class act and a true American hero. He was nice enough to visit my Mother, Carter at Riddle Village after my Dad’s passing and she still talks about the autographed book he left her.He will be truly missed.
- Lynn Meyer(Cairns), Palm Cuty, Fl.
It was an honor to have met Paul and to have supported his trip to the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy through the Gary Sinise Foundation. I want Paul’s entire family to know and remember that thousands and thousands of our fellow citizens support the Gary Sinise Foundation with their generous donations and that the trip was a message from all of them that Paul’s service to our country in WWII is appreciated and will never be forgotten. I am a grateful American for having had the opportunity to speak with Paul and to have been able to thank him personally for being a part of the great generation of Americans who saved the world all those years ago. My condolences go out to his family. God Bless him. Gary Sinise
- Gary Sinise, Los Angeles , CA
I just came across this article on Morality. It reminded me of Paul’s book, It’s Character that Counts. Morality is defined as principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Among the synonyms for morality are Character, Decency, Goodness, Honesty, Integrity and Virtue. Paul was the embodiment of Morality!
- Norman Flojo, Savannah, Georgia
I had the great pleasure of knowing Paul and spending time at his lectures on his many missions during World War II. His recent book is insprational as was his life of service. Our sincere condolences to his family and fellow veterans. May he rest in eternal peace with our Lord.
- Lloyd F. Thompson, Norwell, MA
I'm so sorry for your loss and hope those wonderful stories Paul shared at the Mighty Museum will be carried forward.
- Ann-Noelle McCowan, ASHLAND, Massachusetts
Services under the direction of:
Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, Hodgson Chapel
- 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. on Fri, April 23, 2021
- Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, Hodgson Chapel
7200 Hodgson Memorial Drive (map)
Savannah GA 31406
- Mass of Christian Burial
- 11:00 a.m. on Sat, April 24, 2021
- St. James Catholic Church
8412 Whitefield Avenue (map)
Savannah GA 31406