SCOTT — A young, black soldier looks out of a framed photograph, a new wife on one arm, a corporal’s chevrons on the other.
At 88, Etchien Granger looks back to 1941, the year he joined the U.S. Army and left Lafayette for Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss.
He met an old soldier who took a liking to him. The retired soldier had a room full of radio equipment at his house.
“He said, ‘Get into radio if you have the chance,’” Granger said.
Assigned to an all-black, enlisted coastal unit, Granger got a chance to go to radio school and jumped at it.
“In radio, I had more privileges than an ordinary soldier,” Granger said. “I’d get on a plane with all the big wigs.”
Two or three times, Cpl. Granger found himself carrying the radio for President Franklin Roosevelt.
“I was at Ft. Benning when I first met him,” Granger said. “When his plane landed, there was no communication. I’d take the communication from the plane and put it in my radio.”
With the heavy radio strapped to his back, Granger monitored the president’s frequency while following him around.
“Usually, it was some big wig, a general,” Granger said. “I stood off while they talked. I was under strict orders not to repeat anything I heard.”
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Granger heard of the attack over civilian radio.
He woke a white officer who didn’t believe him, Granger said. “He rolled over and went back to sleep.”
The next day, Granger was walking on the base when the post commander stopped him.
“Tech Granger,” the commander said, “why didn’t you tell me about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor?” I told him I’d told the lieutenant,” Granger said.
While carrying the president’s radio, Granger met first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. After the president’s death in 1945, the black soldier ran into Mrs. Roosevelt at a parade in her honor.
After Granger and the first lady shook hands, a white officer in Granger’s unit wanted to know why he’d shaken her hand.
“He was a second lieutenant, a 90-day wonder,” Granger said. “I told him she knew me, that she’d shaken my hand. If I hadn’t shaken her hand, it would have been an insult.”
Granger’s army career almost ended on his way to his first post outside the United States.
“We were on a ship going to the West Indies,” he said. “A lookout saw the torpedo. Ship swerved and the torpedo passed us.”
Granger’s two years at Trinidad, where the U.S. was building bases, were uneventful. “Mostly, I stayed in a tower near the harbor,” Granger said. “If I saw something funny, I called the Navy.”
Before he left the army, Granger picked up a new skill. “Air compressors had just come out,” he said. “I learned how to repair them.”
He called Lafayette to tell his mother he could make big money in Los Angeles. “She said, ‘You’ve been gone long enough. Get home.’”
“I came back and made 52 cents an hour working on the railroad,” Granger said.
Granger provided for his four boys and two girls as a carpenter and as a bridge tender. Two sons and two nephews got jobs on the railroad. Three sons went into the military. One of them was killed in a convoy accident on the way to Fort Polk in 1975, said son Jerry Granger, a locomotive engineer.
“I’m proud of my pops,” he said. “He set an example for us.”
The U.S. Army he knew was different from his father’s, Jerry Granger said.
“We listen to each other’s stories,” Granger said. “When you’ve still got your pops at this age, it’s special.”
Etchien Granger keeps busy at Acadian Heritage Apartments. He’s a familiar sight “burning rubber” in his electric scooter, his son said.
“I go around picking up old people’s trash and take it to the two dumpsters,” said Granger, who turns 89 in August.