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Obituary for George Michael "Sonny" Gratzer

George Michael "Sonny"  Gratzer
CPT George Michael Gratzer (Ret), "Sonny", 76, died early Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, as the direct result of long-term medical issues derived from wounds suffered in combat in Vietnam.

Sonny was born in Eveleth, Minnesota, to George and Dolly (Heelstone) Gratzer on May 5, 1940. His family moved to Butte shortly thereafter, where he attended grade schools and graduated from Butte Public High School. He played football and participated in track and field. He also boxed for the Racetrack Boxing Club and won a state boxing title. He played guitar and sang, often performing in high school and later in college. He worked summers as a hardrock miner, and was prevented from playing college football due to an accidental injury in the Emma Mine.

He was a proud member of the Butte Miners Union Local No. 1. He sold papers on the Rialto corner from age 9 through 11, and often skipped school on Mondays to earn a buck an hour pushing stock through the pens during sales at the stockyards. He graduated with a B.A. in history in 1963 from what was then Montana State University in Missoula where he became a Sigma Chi and was commissioned through the ROTC program as an Infantry officer. He married Janet Lee of Cut Bank in 1962 and the couple had four children.

In 1963, Sonny trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, where, following Infantry Officers Basic, he earned Airborne Wings and a Ranger Tab, then served in Bamburg, Germany, working as a Mechanized Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader and a Rifle Company Executive Officer. He was then promoted to Captain (CPT) and commanded Company B, 2d Battalion, 54th, Infantry, 4th Armored Division, and became executive officer of the same battalion. In Germany, CPT Gratzer earned the Expert Infantryman’s Badge and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. He completed the 120-credit-hour Special Forces Correspondence Course through the JFK Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

CPT Gratzer earned a Jungle Expert Patch in Panama enroute to his first tour in Viet Nam, where he commanded Company B, 2d Battalion, 2d Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) headquartered in Lai Khe, where he was wounded twice.

CPT Gratzer was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Silver Star (w/ OLC), the Soldier’s Medal, the Bronze Star w/”V” device (w/ OLC), the Purple Heart (w/ two OLC), the Army Commendation Medal (w/ two OLC), the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnamese Campaign Medal (w/ two Stars), two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry (w/Gold Star and Silver Star), and the Vietnamese Service Ribbon. In addition, his unit earned the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry (w/ Palm) and the Vietnamese Civil Action Medal.

During his second tour to Vietnam while in combat, CPT Gratzer underwent direct enemy fire while attempting to save the life of one of his soldiers, and in turn, was shot by an AK round through the spine and internal organs on Feb. 9, 1968. CPT Gratzer spent seven months in military hospitals and the VA Spinal Cord Center in Long Beach, California, where he underwent extensive physical rehabilitation. He was informed he would never walk again, but as stubborn as he was, he learned to walk on his own without further professional rehabilitation. Due to his heroic actions, he was finally awarded his second Silver Star (OLC) 32 years later in December 2000, before the presentation of the Colors, on the 50 yard line at a University of Montana Grizzly game.

Sonny returned to graduate school, was inducted into the National History Honorary Society, and earned his MFA in Creative Writing, later publishing three books of poetry and his first novel, "Ninety Days." He was working on a second novel at the time of his death.

Sonny enjoyed summers at Flathead Lake, first at his Wildhorse Island land, and later at his Finley Point cabin. He was a member of the old Grizzly Century Club, the Grizzly Athletic Association, and then the Grizzly Scholarship Association. An avid fan, Sonny rarely missed a home game. He especially enjoyed watching his kids and grandkids participate in sporting events, and was one of the founders of the Sentinel Booster Club and its first president. He very much enjoyed corresponding with his many military brothers across the nation.

He was a lifetime member of the following organizations: Sigma Chi Fraternity, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Retired Officers Association, the Reserve Officers Association, the Disabled American Veterans, the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Army Ranger Association, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, the American Legion, the Montana Army National Guard Service Club, and the University of Montana Alumni Association. He was also a member of the Hell Gate Elks Lodge No. 383, the Butte High Golden B’s, the Montana Shooting Sports Association, AF&M Sentinel Lodge No. 155, and was a Scottish Rite 32nd Degree Mason.
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He was deeply loved, and his smile, laugh, compassion, my-way-or-the-highway demeanor, playing the guitar and singing, and sincere interest in family and friends and the world around him will be truly missed by all.

His parents, son Steven Kurt Gratzer, and granddaughter Rachel Lynn Millhouse preceded him in death.

Survivors include daughter Dana Gratzer Millhouse (Glenn); son Michael Gratzer (fiancée Maria Snow); daughter Rachel Gratzer Ross; grandchildren Sean (Whitney), Kyle, K.C., Mariah, and Ryan Millhouse; Gage Palmer; Treyvon Spirlin, and JD Strange; sisters Ruthe Fesperman, Vi (René) Marquez, Margie Scheley, Jill (Steve Miller) Gratzer, Karen (John) Doran; and brothers Steve and Karl Gratzer.

Although CPT Gratzer is authorized to be laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, his wishes are to remain in his home state. A visitation will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 14, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Garden City Funeral Home. A memorial service will be held on Thursday, Dec. 15, at 1:30 p.m. at Garden City Funeral Home with a graveside at the Western Montana State Veterans Cemetery at 3:30 p.m. A catered reception with a no-host bar will follow at 6:00 p.m. at the Elks Club 112 N. Pattee, Missoula. Sonny requested that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to Association for the Bladder Exstrophy Community, 204 37th Avenue North, Suite 157, Saint Petersburg, FL 33704; or Scoliosis Research Society, 555 East Wells St. Suite 1100, Milwaukee, WI 53202.

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