If Mary Grayheck had let vanity rule the day, she might never have met her future husband, Roy.
In 1946, she worked in an office at the Bremerton Shipyard and lived in a nearby dormitory for single women.
One February evening, her friend Cora knocked on her door. Cora had a date with her boyfriend, but he didn’t have a car. So, the resourceful young man found a fellow Marine, Roy Grayheck, who had one and asked him if he’d be interested going on double date.
“I said, ‘How am I going to do that? I don’t know anybody,’ ” Grayheck recalled. His friend told him not to worry and assured him that Cora would fix him up.
But Cora had problems finding an available girl. She’d knocked on several doors before trying Mary’s, and Mary wasn’t interested either.
“I’d just shampooed my hair and put it up in pin curls,” Mary said. “But Cora begged me. Finally, I put on a turban and wound it over the pin curls and out we went.”
Roy had recently returned to Bremerton after spending three years in the South Pacific. He’d joined the Marines in 1940 at age 18. His reason for enlisting was simple. “I was living in Pendleton (Oregon) with no prospects of a decent job and no way to go to college.”
When World War II began, Roy was assigned to the 4th Marine Raider Battalion. Organized in January 1942 and disbanded just two years later, the Raider battalions were developed as a Marine Corps special mission force.
In 1943, Roy set off for Guadalcanal aboard the USS Polk, under the command of FDR’s son Lt. Col. James Roosevelt.
From the ship, he and his fellow Marines would scramble down landing nets into waiting boats. They went from island to island, engaging the Japanese in fierce jungle combat.
One particular skirmish stands out: the battle of Bairoko Harbor, on the island of New Georgia. “I guess you might say we were outmanned,” Roy recalled. “They started lobbing mortars at us the minute we hit the beach.”
In his North Spokane living room, he paused and frowned. “I’ve never talked about this before.”
Shaking his head, he continued. “I leaned my head against a tree and a bullet ricocheted off it.”
He rubbed his thumb down the side of his face. “A splinter hit my cheek.”
Roy reflected on the fate of his fellow Marines. “My machine gun squad had two killed and one badly wounded. It just wasn’t my time to go, that’s all.”
He didn’t escape unscathed. Months of jungle fighting resulted in a prolonged struggle with malaria and hookworm. Roy spent three months hospitalized in New Zealand before he was sent back to his ship.
By the time he returned to Bremerton, Roy was ready to put the war behind him and get on with life. A blind date seemed far removed from the horror of the jungle and that suited him just fine.
The foursome went dancing. Mary said, “I thought he looked so strong and nice in his uniform.”
She thought Roy had enjoyed her company, but when he didn’t call she wondered. It turned out, he just needed some prompting. “I didn’t call her for a few days and my buddy told me Cora said Mary was upset that I didn’t call her – so I did.”
Mary laughed. “I thought maybe I didn’t look so great in the turban and I wanted another chance to show him how I fixed myself up!”
Evidently, that second chance left a lasting impression because a few weeks later Roy proposed.
The details, however, are vague.” I think I just said, ‘Well, heck, why don’t we get married?’ ” Roy said. Then he grinned. “I’m not known for romance.” Romantic or not, Mary said yes and on May 25, 1946, they were married in the Naval chapel.
When Roy was discharged in November, the couple moved to Spokane where Roy’s parents lived. He took a job as a lineman for Pacific Northwest Bell.
In 1950, their son Stephen was born, followed by daughter, Diane, in 1951. Two years later, Roy began building the Hillyard home where they still live. “We lived in the basement for three years while Roy worked on the house,” said Mary.
And while Roy built the house, his family continued to grow. A son, Larry, was born in 1955, followed by another son, Paul, in 1956. Mary said, “The boys were born while we were still living in the basement – I was anxious to get out!”
The house was finished in time for the arrival of Theresa in 1959, Marie in 1962 and twin girls in 1964. Sadly, one of the twins lived only eight days. The family drew comfort from the presence of the surviving baby, Jan.
The babies were the first set of twins born at Holy Family Hospital and when Jan started school, Mary returned to the hospital – this time as a nurse’s aide.
The couple raised their bustling brood in neighborhood filled with similar families. Neighborhood sledding parties and picnics were common and the families often swapped baby-sitting duties if a couple wanted to go out.
All seven of the Grayheck kids attended St. Patrick’s Catholic School and then went on to Marycliff or Gonzaga Prep.
In 1986, Roy retired from the phone company and two years later Mary retired from Holy Family. They embraced retirement with the same enthusiasm they had parenting. The Grayhecks embarked on a series of cross-country car trips. “She’s the navigator, I’m the pilot,” said Ray.
But they didn’t limit their travels to the U.S. They took several cruises and traveled to Germany and Japan, as well. For Roy, the trip to Japan was a return visit. “Our outfit was the first to land in Japan and 49 years later I ended up in the same place.” He shook his head. “I didn’t recognize a darn thing!”
They also enjoy gardening. Roy said, “She does the flowers, I do the veggies.”
As they celebrate their 65th year of marriage Mary feels like a blessed woman. “He’s just a wonderful man. He knows my quirks and puts up with them.”
Roy added, “Yeah, but I don’t talk about them!”
They laughed together and reflected on the date that almost wasn’t. If someone else had been willing to go – if Mary had been too vain to go out with her hair in pin curls…if…
It’s something that Roy doesn’t dwell on. Instead he revels in his good fortune. He said, “I was just a dumb 23-year-old – not too bright. I say the good Lord picked her out for me.”