FaceBook  Twitter

Sigma Chi Vietnam Veteran Defined a WarriorBeta Delta would like to recognize one of its Veterans, who will be forever remembered by the Chapter and the lives of all he touched. Sonny Gratzer ’63, defined a warrior, as Mick Holien wrote shortly after his death in an article HERE. Holien was the voice of the Montana Grizzlies for nearly 30 years and retired a few years ago. Sonny Gratzer, 76, died early Tuesday, Dec. 6, 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 hard rock miner, and was prevented from playing college football due to an accidental injury in the Emma Mine.

Sigma Chi Vietnam Veteran Defined a Warrior

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 BA 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, Montana, 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 Vietnam, 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, Calif., 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.

“Dad also wrote a poem, said Sonny’s daughter,” Dana Millhouse. “It was titled ‘Donue Dolly Blue,’ and was published in Angels in Vietnam: Women who served: Stories and poems by and about the women who served in Vietnam, by Jan Hornung. The poem can be found HERE.

There is a display about my dad at the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History at Fort Missoula.  The display was created by Dennis Gordon of RMMMH, who also conducted the estate sale for me last March.  Here are a few pictures of the display.  Unfortunately, Dennis didn't yet display Dad's military uniforms and some other items, citing lack of space, which I rather disagreed with.  At any rate, please visit the museum! Anyone can also visit this page and light a memorial candle for my dad. Thank you again!”

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, and Karen (John) Doran; and brothers, Steve and Karl Gratzer.

Core Values, Vision, and Mission

Core Values
Sigma Chi’s core values are Friendship, Justice and Learning. Our vision is to become the preeminent collegiate leadership development organization — aligned, focused and living our core values. Our mission is to develop values-based leaders committed to the betterment of character, campus and community.

Vision
The fundamental purpose of the Sigma Chi Fraternity is the cultivation, maintenance and promotion of the core values of Friendship, Justice and Learning.

Mission
In the pursuit of these high ideals, the Sigma Chi Fraternity is able to offer tremendous value in augmenting the collegiate experience and supporting the lifelong journey of each of its members. We hope to assist brothers in becoming men of character, caring husbands, compassionate fathers and community leaders.