"Community mourns death of soldier"
U.S. Army Spc. Joseph A. Graves of Discovery Bay, who was killed July 25 during a military operation in Baghdad, Iraq, is described by friends and family as an idealistic and devoutly religious young man who was wise far beyond his years.
“Joey was not a victim – he was a victor,” said Larry Porter, pastor of Delta Community Presbyterian Church in Discovery Bay, where Graves was an active member of the congregation. “He went willingly to serve his country and the Lord. He was a very patriotic young gentleman.”
Before going to Iraq, Graves served a year in South Korea, where Porter said he taught Bible studies to his fellow soldiers.
“Right after getting to South Korea he wrote and asked me to send him some Bible study materials,” Porter said. “He held classes and several of his students converted to Christianity and were baptized. Can you imagine someone his age doing that? He was an awesome young man in so many ways. He was so wise and mature for his age.”
Porter said that a memorial service for Graves is tentatively scheduled for Monday, Aug. 7 at the church, which is located at 1900 Willow Lake Road.
“It looks to be a huge turnout,” Porter said. “His friends are coming from all over.”
Porter said that Kevin Graves and Joseph’s wife, Cori, have asked that people do not wear black. They want the service to be a “celebration” of Joseph’s life.
Graves always made a profound impression on everyone who met him, Porter said. And that was true of both his peers and older adults.
“Once he set his mind to something you knew he would never waver or give up,” said family friend Virgil Koehne, whose three children were friends of Graves, a 2003 graduate of Liberty High School. “He was the kind of young man who restored your faith in today’s youth. A lot of us who knew him felt that way.
“So often these days you only read or hear negative things about young people, but Joey was a great example of how we have good people coming up through the ranks. He was a great role model for anyone of any age.”
Graves, 21, was killed when his convoy was ambushed by enemy fire while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was assigned to the 110th MilitaryPolice Company of the 89th Military Police Brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas.
“Being a small community, this has hit us all really hard,” Koehne said. “It seems like the whole community – and I include Oakley, Brentwood, Byron, Bethel Island – is grieving. It’s like we all have lost a family member.”
He said Joseph’s father, Kevin Graves, seems to be coping with the death of his son as well as can be expected. Koehne said Kevin is deeply touched by the outpouring of love and sympathy for his son and the family. Koehne, general manager of the Discovery Bay Community Services District, planned a tribute to Joseph for Wednesday night at the group’s meeting and invited Kevin Graves to attend.
Susan Tonjes of the Delta Blue Star Moms plans to present a Gold Star Banner to the family. The group is made up of mothers with children serving in the armed forces.
“We don’t know when we’ll present the banner,” Tonjes said. “That’s entirely up to the family. We can do it at the funeral or the memorial service or any other time convenient for them.”
Several civic and political leaders have expressed their sympathy and sorrow over the soldier’s death. At the opening of this week’s meeting of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, members paid tribute with a moment of silence, followed by adjournment in Joseph’s honor.
“This is such a huge tragedy,” said Supervisor Mary Piepho. “This young man made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom that so many of us take for granted. We will do whatever we can to support the family.”
When the state legislature reconvenes Monday, Aug. 7, it also will pay tribute in the same manner at the request of Assemblyman Guy Houston. “Then we will send his family a copy of the journal along with a personal letter from Guy,” said Aaron Bone, Houston’s chief of staff.
Members of the Delta Presbyterian Community Church immediately rallied around Kevin Graves with offers of cleaning the house, bringing meals and even washing the car. Meanwhile, Kevin has been contacting relatives and starting to make funeral arrangements, along with Joseph’s wife, Cori. The day after learning of his son’s death, the elder Graves drove to a small town near Grass Valley to tell Joseph’s grandparents what had happened.
“He was an only child and an only grandchild,” Kevin Graves said. “I didn’t want them hearing about it some other way, and I didn’t want to tell them on the phone.”
Graves raised his son as a single parent and said Joseph had been more like a friend, a best buddy. “We had our plans,” he recalled. “We had good times together.”
When he was 17, Joseph told his dad of his plans to join the military and his dad supported the idea.
“His goal was to eventually join the FBI,” Kevin Graves said. “He had very specific goals and had everything mapped out. He knew what he wanted to do and never stepped off that path. He figured his service in the military and work in the military police was a great way to prepare for a career in law enforcement.”
The elder Graves said his son looked forward to serving in Iraq.
“It wasn’t that he wanted to fight,” Kevin Graves pointed out. “But he wanted to put into action what he’d been taught.”
The last time Kevin Graves saw his son was a few hours before Joseph left for Iraq. He had flown to Texas to meet the other men in his son’s unit and say goodbye in person.
Two weeks before shipping out, Joseph married Cori, his high school sweetheart. They met in Discovery Bay when he was in ninth grade and she in eighth. Cori moved with him to Texas, where they planned to buy a house and eventually start a family.
Joseph Graves was scheduled to return to the United States in October. He would have turned 22 on Dec. 28.
Edited from the article, "Community mourns death of soldier," by, Monty Norris, Antioch Press, published 08/04/2006.