I first met Granvel Hopkins back in February at one of the weigh-ins for the Bassmaster Elite Series on the St. Johns River. Sitting in the crowd, he was introduced as an Army veteran of three wars AND a three-time Purple Heart recipient.
He carefully stood and waved to the crowd as they cheered him for his service to America. After the weigh-in ended, I knew I had to meet Mr. Hopkins. He was walking with his daughter, Lynn, back to the parking lot. I introduced myself and thanked him for his service to our country.
They were both gracious with their time, but I didn’t want to hold them too long. We talked for a few minutes and I told him and his daughter I’d like to talk with them both soon about his military service.
I would see them again later that month. The Palatka City Commission honored Mr. Hopkins – known as Hoppy – with a Palatka Pride Hometown Hero award. The award was part of a proclamation recognizing Black History Month.
And if you want to talk about history, Mr. Hopkins is a walking account of history of U.S. wars fought in the 20th century. Now living in San Mateo with his daughter, Hoppy served his country in three wars – at the end of World War II and then in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Unbelievable.
Mr. Hopkins' first duty at the end of World War II was helping to clean up concentration camps. He would go on to serve as an Army Ranger and lead a platoon in Vietnam. Hopkins spent 35 years in the Army.
Prior to his city recognition in February, a video from a 2019 interview with a Jacksonville television station was played to the audience at City Hall.
His daughter talked about how she didn’t know much about his military history until she moved in with him and discovered his numerous Army records, medals and commendations.
In the video, Mr. Hopkins talks about having his aunt sign for him to join the Army at the age of 16 after his mother refused to do so. “She raised hell with my aunt,” Hopkins said in the TV news video.
The Hopkins family turned down an opportunity to be interviewed for this Salute column, with Lynn Hopkins saying she didn’t want to bring up his military career with him too often. She said she loved, honored and respected her dad and just wanted to live in peace with him now. Lynn Hopkins did say her dad continues to live “true to his oath he took when he joined the Army and all that he went through.”
Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill wants Putnam County residents – particularly young residents – to know about what Mr. Hopkins endured. That’s why Hill wanted to honor Hoppy with the city award in February, recognizing the distinctions he has an American soldier.
“He was an Army Ranger during the time when African-Americans rarely were allowed to even apply for those positions,” Hill told me in October. “He was a Ranger in a segregated Army. It’s an amazing story of courage, fortitude and perseverance.
“But he’s so humble and so spirited at his age. We wanted to thank him in a special way. He’s from Ocala, but he has chosen to make Putnam County his home.”
Hoppy enjoys his days today fishing when he can, according to his daughter. His love for fishing is what brought him to the Bassmaster tournament in February.
Hill said that Hoppy will brag about his catches given the opportunity. But he said Mr. Hopkins is one who doesn’t like a lot of attention and does not share a whole lot of information about his time in the military.
That’s understandable for those who have seen the horrors of war. And Hopkins’ story might have never been told if not for his daughter’s discovery of his medals and commendations.
“His daughter came here from Atlanta to make sure he’s taken care of,” Hill said. “The two are inseparable. He’s always surrounded by love and the folks in this community have embraced him and his daughter.”
This special publication of the Palatka Daily News is intended to honor Hopkins and the veterans like him in Putnam County.
According to Keith Brandon, senior veterans service officer for Putnam County, there are just over 7,000 veterans in our county. Brandon said the largest of that number are Vietnam veterans, followed by Gulf War veterans.
Hill said Mr. Hopkins and all veterans deserve our honor and respect.
“He epitomizes the America we should live in,” Hill said. “It’s wonderful to see these veterans and the living example you can put your hands on about what you can accomplish once you commit yourself to something and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
“These stories are extremely important. The resounding theme is they weren’t fighting for any particular race. They were fighting for the guy next to them.”
To Mr. Hopkins and each veteran who fought that fight for America, we thank you and we salute you.
Wayne Smith is the editor of the Palatka Daily News.
His email is email@example.com.