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thedrifter
06-14-08, 06:31 AM
Patriotic immigrant celebrates Flag Day with red, white and blue spirit

10:00 PM PDT on Friday, June 13, 2008

By JOE VARGO
The Press-Enterprise


SAN BERNARDINO - Guenther Griebau grew up in Nazi Germany, saw his family's home bombed to rubble twice in Allied air attacks, and spent months living in drainage ditches and hovels without electricity or plumbing.

Yet far from being angry or disillusioned at the United States, Griebau served the country for 26 years with the Marine Corps, coached and started a Little League chapter in Northern California, flies the American flag every day and according to his friends and neighbors "bleeds red, white and blue."

The 70-year-old went so far as to install a tile replica of Old Glory into the wall of his residence. The 241-tile replica cost $1,700. Griebau said it's money well spent.

As he celebrates Flag Day today, Griebau's flags will be out in force in his neighborhood near Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino.

He'll be flying Old Glory and the Marine Corps flags in front of his home. Smaller flags stuck in the ground in front of his house will flutter in the breeze. Many of his neighbors will fly flags Griebau gave to them.

The perfect day, Griebau says, to display the emblem of the land he loves.

"People ask me why I fly the flag all the time," Griebau said. "Do you need a reason? I've flown a flag wherever I've lived. This country gave me everything. If you've got initiative, intelligence and ambition, you can accomplish anything here."

It was as a child in post-war Germany that Griebau first witnessed the American flag flying and U.S. troops saluting it during military ceremonies and when it was raised and lowered at the end of each day.

Americans occupied Frankfurt after the war and Griebau's family relocated there from their home in Hamburg, which was destroyed by the Americans and British bombers in a series of firebombings that killed more than 40,000 people.

Griebau came to love the occupation troops, who looked and moved smartly and treated children to ice cream and chocolate bars.

A Player, and a Marine

When his father, Hans, emigrated to Chester in Northern California in 1949, Griebau began his transformation from immigrant to all-American boy. It was small town America. Population: 1,200; major industry: lumber milling.

He attended Chester High School and played guard and center on the football squad.

He ran track and competed in shot put. He pitched for the Volcanoes baseball team, played catcher and patrolled center field. He loved the game, so much that when Little League inquired about a chapter in 1956, Griebau jumped at the chance to take part. His team was a perfect 17-0 when he left to join the Marines.

His career took him to Japan and Vietnam, where in 1969-70 he was part of the Marine detail assigned to protect ambassador Ellsworth Bunker. Griebau drove the bulletproof limousine the ambassador used to travel around Saigon, his 9 mm pistol strapped to his side. Buddhist monks sometimes protested outside the embassy. Enemy rockets flew overhead nightly.

First Lady Pat Nixon visited Vietnam during Griebau's time there. She poured him a cup of Kool-Aid, a memory that is still vivid.

"Where else in the world would that happen?" he said. "The First Lady giving a refreshment to a Marine."

Griebau left the Marines in 1982, retiring after 26 years as a sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank in the Corps. But his service did not end when he took off the uniform.

In the ensuing years, Griebau raised money for the blind, underprivileged children, Little League and veterans. Earlier this year, Griebau returned to Chester and threw out the first pitch as the season got under way, a tribute to his work helping establish the Little League chapter more than a half century ago.

Making a Difference

Paul Adkins, a member of the Riverside National Cemetery Support Committee, which has planned numerous Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies, said Griebau's motivation is simple.

"He wants to make a difference," Adkins said.

"There isn't anything Guenther would not do for someone in need. He's served his country and community proud. He's talked the talk and walked the walk. For me to call him my friend is one of the biggest honors I have."

Residents on his street say Griebau is like a security blanket.

He serves on the Neighborhood Watch team, visits shut-in neighbors with words of encouragement and presents flags to people moving onto the block.

Neighbor Lydia Salazar, 63, said Griebau served as an inspiration for her son, Steven, who joined the 82nd Airborne Division and served in the first Iraq war. There were times when the going got tough that Steven remembered Griebau's exhortation to "do my duty," Salazar recalled.

"He instilled so much patriotism into him," she said. "He takes such pride in the flag and this neighborhood. When you see him flying his flag, you want to fly yours."

That's music to Griebau's ears. The high school athlete uses sports terminology to sum his thoughts on patriotism, hard work and living the American dream.

"This country gave me the ball when I was young," Griebau said.

"I've been running with it ever since."

Reach Joe Vargo at 951-368-9289 or jvargo@PE.com

Flag Day

Flag Day is celebrated every June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States by resolution of the Second Continental Congress in 1777. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established June 14 as Flag Day; in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by Congress and signed into law by President Harry Truman.

Ellie