Nearly 75 years after George Grebe enlisted in the Marines, he told his grandson that leaving Long Island had put him the right road.
Had he stayed, Grebe told his grandson Brian Weiss, in a video interview uploaded last year online, “I probably would have got in a lot of trouble, cause I was a little wiseass.”
Grebe learned roadwork by cutting airstrips in the Marines during World War II in the Pacific theater. He went on to help build major Long Island thoroughfares such as Sunrise Highway and Hempstead Turnpike.
Grebe died Nov. 16 of natural causes at the Beach House, an assisted-living facility in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, where he had retired. He was 93. A son, Wayne Grebe of Hicksville, confirmed the death.
The elder Grebe had dropped out of high school in Queens, at age 17, to enlist in the Marines, where he served from February 1943 until December 1945, according to a copy of his discharge certificate.
Grebe was awarded a Purple Heart after an injury in Okinawa on April 12, 1945, according to records requisitioned for Newsday by the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
“The air raids were the scariest. You never know where the hell they were dropping bombs,” Grebe said in the video interview. “You had to find shelter, get in the foxhole, or get down in some hole somewhere, because you never know when they’re dropping bombs how good they are.”
George William Grebe was born June 16, 1925, in Long Island City, Queens, the second child of Elwood William Grebe, a corporal in the National Guard and New York City firefighter, and the former Ann Marie Fagen, a homemaker. He was raised in Bayside, Queens, and attended P.S. 159 and Bayside High School.
In 1945, he married Veronica Elizabeth O’Neill, and the couple moved to Long Island, living in Lindenhurst and Bay Shore before settling in North Babylon, according to his family. The family attended St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Babylon. Veronica Grebe died in 1992.
An avid fisherman and swimmer, Grebe worked at Wheeler Yacht; his plan to become an NYPD officer ended after he hurt his back in a devastating motorcycle accident, according to a daughter-in-law, Marie Grebe.
Through an uncle, he joined Local 138 of the operating engineers union, according to his family. He learned to operate graders, bulldozers and other equipment while in the military — skills he put to use cutting roads in Long Island’s postwar building boom.
He was also past president of the Babylon Tuna Club, according to his family. Babylon Tuna is described on the group’s Facebook page as one of Long Island’s largest fishing clubs.
In addition to Wayne Grebe, he is survived by children Georgette Velasquez of Chester, Virginia; Barbara Weiss of Atlantic Beach, Florida and Charles Grebe of Palm Coast, Florida; 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. His daughter Nancy Black died in 1989, according to the family.
He was cremated. A private memorial service is planned for July in Jacksonville, Florida, his family said.
In the video interview, Grebe credited the Marines with teaching him a lifelong trade — and maturity.
“Military made me grow up, understand a little bit more what life was about,” he said, “and the things you have to do to take care of yourself.”