The family of a fallen soldier received a gift of a lifetime--three decades after his death, thanks to East Peoria native and country music star Tim Atwood.
The beginning of the story goes back 30 years to the opening of the Gulf War. Marines were on the ground attempting to prevent Iraqi divisions from crossing the Kuwaiti border into Saudi Arabia, near a town called Khaji. During the early morning hours of January 31, 1991 -- less than two weeks after Operation Desert Storm began -- a distress call came from those Marines. They were under attack by enemy ground forces, and asking for help from one of three gunships assigned to support those Marines from the air.
“Spirit 03” answered the call. The aircraft saved the lives of all the Marines on the ground, but was subsequently shot down over the Persian Gulf, killing all 14 troops on board. Captain William D. Grimm was the navigator for the ill-fated Spirit 03. The 28-year-old left behind a wife, two young daughters and two brothers, who were also fighting in the same war.
A few months later, a fuel systems technician in the U.S. Air Force who worked on Spirit 03 and was stationed at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, attended a memorial service for the crew members. She bought a memorial bracelet from a store on the base. Memorial bracelets were initially introduced in the late 60’s as a way to show support to the families of those missing from the Vietnam War. Each bracelet bore the name of a soldier who was killed or missing in action. On the one she happened to pick up that day, the name William D. Grimm was etched.
Though she didn’t know Captain Grimm personally, she put the bracelet on, and vowed never to take it off.
But one day, some 26 years later, she found herself at a Tim Atwood concert in Nashville, Tennessee. Tim Atwood grew up in East Peoria, listening to country music legends and dreaming of being onstage himself. He began his own music career at age 13 playing gospel music for The Harris Family. He graduated from East Peoria Community High School in 1974. In 1976, he moved to Music City to pursue his dream. He began touring with Mel Street, Lynn Anderson and Jim Ed Brown. At the tender age of 23, he was tapped to play piano at the Grand Ole Opry. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse. He stayed with the Opry for 38 years -- more than 8,000 performances -- before he decided to go solo.
“It’s really a testament of ‘it’s never too late to live your dream’,” said his wife, Roxane. “He came to Nashville to be a country music entertainer, and when he was offered the job as Grand Ole Opry pianist, as part of the Grand Ole Opry staff, that’s hard to turn down; it’s a dream job. But 38 years later, when most men are considering retiring, Tim decides that he never forgot that initial dream that brought him to Nashville in the first place.”
The Atwoods take extreme pride in being American and are profoundly proud of the military. Their son is a Purple Heart Army Veteran. Tim talks about those military heroes both in word and in song at every concert he gives.