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Son, soldier remembered

Family and friends mourn a 20-year-old who found purpose in the Army.

By CHANDRA BROADWATER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 1, 2007


SPRING HILL - The day after her brother, Cody Grater, was killed in Iraq, Cheyanne Decker had a gold photo-engraved pendant made to remember him.

While her parents sat at their kitchen table with an Army officer Tuesday afternoon to work out the funeral arrangements for their 20-year-old son, she went to a mall with a friend to get more necklaces engraved.

"This photo was taken on July 15," she said, holding up the heart-shaped pendant. She and her brother's faces in the image are cheek to cheek, etched into the metal with thin lines.

"It's just so much to think about," the 14-year-old said sadly. "He was just here."

Grater, at the halfway point of his 14-month tour of duty in Iraq, recently had returned home for a two-week furlough. A little more than a week later, on Sunday, Pfc. Grater was killed when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his Humvee outside Baghdad.

He is the second person from Hernando County to die in Iraq.

A paratrooper stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., Grater was a driver with the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. While in Iraq, he worked out of Camp Taji, about 20 miles north of Baghdad.

He joined the Army last year after deciding that he wanted some direction in his life, his family said Tuesday. He earned his high school diploma by passing the GED test. He attended Springstead High.

That's where he met Jessi Tenaro. The 19-year-old said she and Grater made a pact to marry each other if they turned 40 and were both alone.

"He wanted to be something and have a career," she said. "This was a way for him to do that."

Tenaro has created a MySpace page for their friends to mourn Grater's death.

His mother, Anita Lewis, said that while he was growing up, her "little man" always had an interest in the military. He read books with military themes and collected toys that matched his soldier's imagination.

"You remember those toys called Micro Machines?" Lewis asked, wiping away tears. "He had all the military ones."

Sitting on her living room couch, she greeted a steady stream of family and friends who came through the rain to console her. Each passed two stickers on the front door that read, "I am the proud parent of a soldier."

Inside, family photos plaster the walls. An angel rests above one of her son's military pictures.

"You know, I always had a date," she said. "He was always there to go to dinner with when it was just me and him."

When Cody was 3, she married Larry Decker, the stepfather who always treated Cody as if he were his biological son.

"He was a good kid," Larry Decker said. "He was proud to be a solider fighting for his country."

Grater loved working on his cars, especially his black Honda Civic hatchback. He liked loud hip-hop music and chasing girls. He was a good person, friends and family said. Someone who was always there to help.

While he was home, and when he wasn't out visiting friends, Grater and his mom sat around and caught up. She found their short phone conversations from Iraq hard to handle because she was scared about the danger that surrounded him.

Grater was no stranger to the risks of war and had earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He had planned to re-enlist so that he could work with Black Hawk helicopters.

As of Tuesday evening, local funeral arrangements had not been finalized. Friday, in Iraq, his unit will hold a memorial service.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.