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One good look at The Lady

After 60 years of waiting, German war bride Thea Gravley of Cornelius gets to view the Statue of Liberty
by: Nancy Townsley,

All Thea Gravley wanted was a good look at The Lady.

The German war bride - who married Gaston native Jack Gravley on May 13, 1948, and left her family for a new life in America - spent 60 years waiting for that one glance.

When the newlyweds made the long journey to the United States by military boat six decades ago, Thea was giddy with anticipation.

As she, Jack and baby Lloyd, who had been born in Germany, approached New York harbor, Thea searched the horizon for the Statue of Liberty.

'I wanted to see that symbol of freedom,' she recalled.

It was not to be - the harbor was completely fogged in, blocking any view of The Lady. Thea was crushed.

'I said to my husband, 'before I die, I want to see the statue,'' said Thea.

With three children, six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, the Gravleys, now both 80, realized they couldn't wait much longer.

Because of a special Christmas gift from their younger son, Turk, and his wife, Debbie, three months ago Thea finally got her wish.

'They arranged the whole thing,' said Thea, a Forest Grove Elkette who loves to putter in the garden.

'I just flipped - we made the trip April 8-15,' Thea noted. Turk and Debbie came along, and the foursome took in the culture of the Big Apple together.

They enjoyed a buggy ride in Central Park, glimpsed the former apartment of Beatle John Lennon and stayed in a Manhattan hotel.

The wait to get into the Empire State Building was too long - more than two hours - so they scrapped that idea.

'The city itself is terrific,' said Jack, who retired from Tektronix 27 years ago after going through open-heart surgery. 'We had a fine time.'

The highlight of the week-long trip, of course, was the couple's sighting of the Statue of Liberty on a bright, sunny morning.

'I just stood there and looked at it and cried,' recalled Thea, whose memories of World War II oppression and atrocities came flooding back.

'It means everything to me because here in the U.S. we are free - it's the best statue I've ever seen.'

They were a little disappointed because Homeland Security regulations, put in place after 9/11, disallowed their entry into the statue itself.

'The best view of it is not on the island, but out in the bay,' said Jack, who took his wife for a mini-cruise so they could get a proper gander at the statue.

Thea was especially happy to be sharing the moment with her spouse, the handsome Army soldier she met while working in a German bakery so many years ago.

'I was just 19 and at the time, I didn't really like American GIs,' recalled Thea. 'We lost everything because the Russians and the Americans bombed and shelled us.'

Jack won her over because 'he knew how to speak German,' said Thea.

They first moved to Gaston, where Jack's parents lived, then to Forest Grove. Thirty years ago the Gravleys bought a large ranch-style home in Cornelius and have been there ever since.

A U.S. flag is suspended from a tall pole in the front yard.

'Thea is so in love with the Stars and Stripes,' said Jack. 'It's a symbol of freedom and life for her.'

Thea regularly admonishes local business owners who, in her mind, fail to properly display the flag. If it's on the wrong side of another banner, they hear about it, and if it's tattered or dirty, Thea gives them an earful.

'She's a bugger about that,' Jack said with a laugh.

A patriot at heart as well, Jack was thrilled to finally view the Statue of Liberty earlier this year.

When he deployed to his wartime assignment in 1944, Jack's unit sailed out under a 2 a.m. blackout and didn't see The Lady.

'I thought, 'finally,'' he said. 'It's so much bigger than you imagine.'