GRAYLING, Mich. — Tucked away deep in the woods of Grayling’s Hanson Hills, atop Mt. Franklin among the winter snows and summer leaves lie two of the most mysterious, silent secrets of venerable Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center. Two names belonging to faces long-forgotten sit etched into cold granite blocks, the final testament to two of the Michigan National Guard’s own who, like their modern counterparts, came to this post to serve.
Pfc. John A. Conroy of Company D and Pvt. George A. Laine of Company A, both of Michigan’s storied 125th Infantry Regiment, lie alone beneath haunting stone outlines. Visitors today will hear the rifle and mortar echoes from far below as Conroy and Laine’s regimental descendants train about the guidon these two men once rallied toward. Though their names lie in stone, their stories are known by few, even among today’s infantrymen.
Command Sgt. Maj. Harold “Tike” Golnick, Camp Grayling’s Post Sergeant Major from 1985-1990, was responsible for the caretaking of the miniature cemetery.
“Someone told me it was the smallest military cemetery in the United States,” said Golnick. “They were forgotten for awhile, we started taking care of it again.”
A Detroiter at the end of his life, Conroy was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1902. His death, from pneumonia on the Ides of August, 1927, was the second Soldier death in Grayling that year, though he was the first in the camp’s young history to be interred there. So soon after the camp’s founding was his death that the post’s marquee body of water was still called Portage Lake, before its name reflected the memory of Margrethe Hanson, wife of Grayling lumber magnate and Camp Grayling patriarch Rasmus Hanson.
Laine, Conroy’s battle buddy of the last 75 years, a Gwynn native displaced to Detroit, became the second, and last, resident of Camp Grayling Cemetery when a drowning accident claimed his life in nearby Frog Lake July 14th, 1939. Less than 2 months before Germany’s invasion of Poland launched World War II and a little longer than a year before the 125th would be called to active service, Laine would not accompany his fellow Soldiers to battle.
Unfortunately, little else is known about these soldiers. The graves were left for decades, all but forgotten and neglected.
“In the late 50s- a captain, he was on a [training mission] up there and found it, and they started taking care of it,” recalled Golnick.
The care and maintenance of the site continues, still, few of Camp Grayling’s patrons know of its existence.
“It’s kind of a lost secret, really,” added Golnick.
According to records obtained by the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, new headstones were purchased for both graves in 1958, followed by a service on Memorial Day that same year. The cemetery is not a national cemetery and does not accept additional interments.
Story by Capt. Douglas Halleaux, 126 Press Camp Headquarters, Michigan National Guard