COLUMN: Lawrence Dalton Grantham, Private, U.S. Army, Korean War Killed in Action

Published 1:00 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

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It is a tragedy when a soldier dies in war. The death of Dalton Grantham in Korea in 1953 was particularly tragic. He married Shirley Walton on August 2, 1952, and was deployed to Korea about a week later. Dalton Grantham would never return home until his body was brought home from the Korean War for burial in August 1953.

Last letter sent from PVT Dalton Grantham to his sister in Andalusia, Alabama. It was mailed by him on June 11, 1953, only four days before his was killed. It is postmarked on June 13, so it probably arrived after the family was notified of his death. [Photo: Terry Owens]

Lawrence Dalton Grantham was born in Andalusia, Alabama, on June 27, 1932. His parents were Olar Coleman and Joel Benjamin Grantham. Dalton had three older siblings from his father’s first marriage to Mattie Strickland. Mattie died in 1921 and Joel married Olar Coleman in 1925. Dalton was the oldest child of Joel and Olar Grantham. They had three daughters after Dalton’s birth.

Family records indicate that Dalton’s grandfather was a Cherokee Indian who had settled in Montgomery County, Alabama, during the “March of Tears.” At the time of Dalton’s birth, his father was 51 years old and his mother was 34. A 1940 census shows Dalton living with his family in River Falls, Alabama.

At some point, the family moved to Andalusia because Dalton was listed on the A and B honor roll at East Three Notch Elementary School several times. He was possibly living with an older sister since a nephew said that she had raised him from an early age. It is not known if Dalton graduated from high school before going to work at the shipyard in Mobile, Alabama. He was working at the shipyard when he was called up for the draft in May 1951.

Map of Korea showing the Kumwha Valley where the Battle of Boomerang took place. PVT Grantham was killed in that battle on June 15, 1953. [Photo: Wikipedia]

Dalton Grantham met Shirley Walton of Mobile, Alabama, while working at the shipyard. They were married on August 2, 1952, in Andalusia, Alabama. They had been married one week before he was deployed.

When Dalton was deployed to Korea, he was assigned to Company F, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. In June 1953, Company F was involved in what came to be called the Battle of Boomerang. The United Nations forces occupied a hill area known as Boomerang that faced hills that were just a few hundred yards away that were occupied by the Chinese communist army.

The Boomerang was part the Kumhwa Vally, located just south of the 38th parallel, which would mark the demilitarized zone after the armistice was signed on July 27. The Chinese army was trying to gain as much ground as possible before the armistice.

The Chinese conducted a massive assault on Boomerang on June 14-15. Veterans who fought in the battle recalled artillery fire and mortars “falling like rain.” The Chinese attacked at night with flashlights taped to their guns. One veteran said, “it looked like Christmas with all the lights.” During the intense battle, 2nd Platoon of Company F, sustained 52 casualties out the 56-man platoon. Company F had to be withdrawn from the battle lines after that. One of the casualties was PVT Dalton Grantham, killed on the last day of the battle, June 15.

PVT Dalton Grantham was posthumously awarded The Purple Heart. He was also awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, the Republic of Korea War Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal.

A nephew, Joel L. Grantham, said that he was visiting Fox Company the day that Dalton died. He recalled, “I was a member of the 5th Regimental Combat Team and was visiting Dalton’s Company CP [command post] trying to get a transfer to his unit at the time he was killed in action…His Company Commander talked me out of it…I returned to my unit and was the last one in the family to find out about his death. My dad had to write and tell me. 

“However, I did get personal letters I had written to him returned to me…Dalton and I grew up together. He was two and a half years older…Growing up together, we were almost inseparable – where you saw one, you saw the other…I dearly loved the man as I would my own brother and have missed him these many years since his death.” 

Dalton Grantham wrote a letter to his family dated June 11, 1953, just four days before his death. In the letter, he addressed his sister, “Willie Mae you said in your letter that you felt like I had felt your prayers. I think I have too. I feel like God is with me so keep on praying for me and pray for me to be saved. I say a prayer every day. I have been saying a prayer every day since I was 16 years old. God has answered a lot of them too.” 

PVT Lawrence Dalton Grantham’s funeral was held in Prichard, Alabama, on August 28, 1953. He was buried with full military honors in Whistler Cemetery, Therrell Annex in Prichard. He was survived by half-sisters, Willie Mae Grantham Roper, Rosa Lee Grantham Terry; half-brother, Harvey Grantham; sisters, Dorothy Grantham Henderson, Josephine Grantham, and Evelyn Grantham Crosby. The obituary noted that Josephine Grantham, Evelyn Crosby and Mrs. Harvey Grantham were employed by the Alatex in Andalusia.

John Vick

The author would like to thank Mrs. Terry Owens, great niece of Dalton Grantham, for her help in writing about PVT Dalton Grantham.

[Sources: Tribute to Lawrence Dalton Grantham by Joel L. Grantham, nephew of Dalton; The Journal News of Hamilton, Ohio, article, ”Korean vets hold reunion,” August 2001; The Andalusia Star-News article dated June 25, 1953; The Opp News article dated October 8, 1952; letters of PVT Dalton Grantham courtesy of Terry Owens; “The Battle of Boomerang, June 14-15, 1953,”]