Two Remarkable Veterans

Daddy Pete

His name was Lee McGriff, Jr. He was a husband and father. He was a naval aviator, flying off of aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. After the war, he took over his family’s insurance agency and, over the following fourty years, built it into the powerhouse it is today.

To me and many others he was “Daddy Pete.”

Hanging on a wall in his house was his diploma from the University of the South. I saw it many times without knowing what the gold and purple ribbons across one of the lower corners meant. I would learn that it meant that he had graduated with honors many years later when I, in my turn, received my own diploma from the same college. On the same wall hung a picture of a bat in flight, holding a dagger in its mouth. I knew only that the image represented something about Daddy Pete’s service during World War II.

I cannot remember who told me this story, possibly Daddy Pete, although I cannot recall him speaking of his service during the war. The story goes like this. A group of aviators challenged each other to a dare. The war memorial at the University of the South, Sewanee, is a huge white cross standing on the edge of the mountain. The pilots dared each other to fly over the cross and touch their tail wheels to the top of the cross as they flew over. I believe this is a true story. I have a vague memory of seeing grooves in the top of the cross when I was a student.

Double Exposure, Cross and rose window at Sewanee

Read more about Daddy Pete: Ben Branscomb

Jim and I had dinner with Dr. Branscomb and his wife, Jane a few years ago. One of the stories Jane told concerned “Daddy Pete” McGriff. She said that Daddy Pete’s wife, Ackie, and she were together once and “Miss Alice, Ackie, placed her hand on Jane’s arm and said, “I’m so sorry.” (To understand this conversation, it’s necessary to know that “paper airplanes” are just private planes.) When asked what she was sorry about, Miss Alice replied with something like this. “Well, I know that Ben has set up all of these mobile testing centers all over the southeast. He sends his staff in the mobile van, they get set up and then he flies his paper airplane to wherever they are and conducts the respiratory testing that he developed. I just know that he got his paper airplane because Daddy Pete has his paper airplane. It’s a competition thing and now we both have to live with our husbands flying paper airplanes all over the place.”

Dr. Branscomb was in the military during both World War II and Korea. But I do not know if he learned to fly during his service or afterwards.

Dr. Ben Branscomb

Read about Dr. Branscomb’s amazing career:

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