- by Pat Saik
While World War II raged, Jeanne Grand Murphy was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was 1943, and she grew up to serve the armed forces - one soldier at a time.
Being born during wartime perhaps explains the love and commitment Jeanne extends to all veterans. She is passionate about the work she does to help service members heal from their physical — and mental — wounds.
Walk into Jeanne’s home in Clermont Harbor and find an entire wall filled with photographs sent to her by the wounded warriors that she has helped over the years.
She started volunteering after Hurricane Katrina with an organization she found online called Soldiers’ Angels. The organization’s mission, “May no soldier go unloved,” is a simple wish that motivates and animates the work Jeanne does.
Jeanne’s sister was living with her then and suffered from cancer. Jeanne enlisted her sister to become a Solders’ Angel too. At first she resisted, recalls Jeanne. “I told her, ‘Don’t just sit here and die on me,’ and she agreed she would help a soldier, too.”
“My sister and I worked as a team. We would send boxes filled with all sorts of things - some practical and some to make the soldiers laugh. One time we sent a bunch of s’mores. Another time we sent Mardi Gras beads and masks.
“One fellow, he was a medic, loved Boudreaux’s Butt Paste. He thought it was just the thing for cuts and bruises.” Jeanne kept him well supplied.
Jeanne and her sister Frances became known among the soldiers and their families as “Crash Granny Woo” and “Granny Frances.”
When Jeanne told the guys her sister had cancer, they turned around and adopted Jeanne’s sister! One marine sent an orchid necklace to Frances when he was overseas. “He enriched my sister’s life,” Jeanne says simply.
Besides photographs of the men and women in uniform whom Jeanne “adopted,” Jeanne’s walls are also filled with myriad certificates of appreciation. Twice she won the Crystal Award, the highest award granted by Soldiers’ Angels. A Joint Expeditionary Team sent her the flag they flew over their FOB (forward observation base). Members of Operation Iraqi Freedom send her a hat with “Granny” written in Arabic on it.
One soldier gave her a private plane ride. She loved every minute and was ready to take over the controls herself. Jeanne is ready and willing to take on whatever it is in her power to do.
At a visit to Walter Reed Hospital, she saw to it that those who couldn’t use their arms got laptops with a voice recognition feature so they could compose their own letters home. Funds came from mentors who chip in to help the Angels buy things to make life easier for soldiers.
The work Jeanne does to help the soldiers pays off in smiles. On a fishing expedition a guy named Ernie, who rarely smiled, caught a redfish. “I watched a change come over him and he was grinning from ear to ear.”
Jeanne asserts with both sincerity and fierceness, “I want to bring peace and happiness in their lives.”
Fishing expeditions have gotten to be a regular excursion. Sometimes ten vets at a time go out cruising for the day, all expenses paid. Jeanne got it all started with one man who volunteered to do a day on the water in his boat. Before long, a whole cadre of ship’s captains offered their boats too.
“We’ve been having regular fish fries for the local vets,” she says. This event got started 11 years ago; State Representative David Baria and wife Marcia, both big supporters of veterans, are hosts of the popular annual event.
Photos courtesy files of Jeanne Graeser
“Sometimes the Veterans Administration is just so slow in getting aid to the wounded warriors. The organization Donna started (CWVSM) helps by filling an immediate need that a veteran may face. It is an honor to work with Donna. And it’s fun, too.”
Jeanne spent much of her life in Baton Rouge, raising four children — two girls and two boys. During the time she lived in Baton Rouge, she and her family often drove to Clermont Harbor, via old US Highway 90, to visit myriad aunts, uncles and cousins. She has sweet memories of the fun she had crabbing and fishing and swimming, and of family stops on the way at the White Kitchen, a popular bar and restaurant near the intersection of Highways 90 and 190 that is now gone.
Jeanne lives in Clermont Harbor now with Scrappy, an aging Chihuahua with an attitude. “He still bites me,” she says.
“I just love it here,” Jeanne says as she spreads her arms out to the sky. “It is peaceful out here, and safe. But many of the friends who lived here just didn’t move back after Katrina. Insurance got too expensive.”
Jeanne’s home in Clermont Harbor, totally destroyed by Katrina, came back alive thanks to a cadre of volunteers from Ohio, New York, Michigan, and the Amish country who built her a new home. “I knew how to cook and I fixed everybody gumbo and red beans and rice... and what I learned from the kindness of the volunteers, I shifted off to the troops.”
Shoppers at Walmart in Waveland may see Jeanne as they enter the store, where she works full time as a greeter. “I make connections while I work that help me do things for the troops. You gotta put it out there to get it back.”