~Shared by Tammy Compton
“I continue to serve because I believe in what I do, and I am honored to work with my fellow soldiers.”
-Major Paul Clarke Voelke, an excerpt from the Times Herald Record
Not a day goes by that Tom Griffenkranz of Hawley doesn’t think about the younger brother he lost in Afghanistan. A true American Hero, Army Major Paul Clarke Voelke, lost his life on June 22 in Mazari-Sharif. A 1998 West Point graduate, he’d served his country for 14 years.
This October in New Jersey, Tom plans to participate in the Tough Mudder, a grueling 12-mile obstacle course that will require every ounce of strength and stamina he has. But he won’t be going it alone.
He’ll have Paul’s memory to guide him. And the knowledge that he’s helping The Wounded Warriors Project, a program that aids military service members who’ve suffered service-related wounds, injuries, or illness, as well as their families.
“Guys are getting hurt over there everyday and returning home looking at countless hours of rehab. Most will never be the same. So, I just thought it would be a nice tribute to Paul to give back to the men and women he fought with that did return home,” Tom said.
Talking about his late brother, Tom’s words overflow with love and loss; how his brother was the kindest person in the world, the kind who would do anything for anyone.
“I just really admired Paul as a person and a father. Although I am the older brother, when Paul was around, you just wanted to be better, to do better. It’s hard to explain really, but you just always knew you were around someone that was going to do great things.”
“Paul was married to his high school sweetheart, Traci, and they have two boys, Andrew (A.J.), 9 and Ben, 6. A.J. is a mini Paul. It’s crazy when I look at A.J. and see Paul as a kid. Ben has Paul’s big heart,” Tom said.
Though they were stepbrothers, Tom never referred to Paul or his brother Christopher that way. They were his brothers – period.
“I think our love of sports was the one thing that bonded us the most over the years. We could always talk for hours about the Los Angeles Dodgers, our favorite baseball team,” Tom said. “I miss him a lot. Wish I could pick up the phone and talk to him about the Dodgers.”
Growing up, the trio was inseparable. “As kids, we played a lot of Nintendo, countless hours of Contra and RBI baseball.”
“But probably the best thing we did was play basketball in the backyard. We had an old ‘Jordan Jammer’ (plastic basketball hoop) that we nailed to a tree. We hung it low enough so we could dunk. Paul, Christopher and I, and a few kids from the area played hours and hours of games. Sometimes they got really intense. I always look back at those days and smile,” Tom said.
“At Paul’s funeral, all the guys that played were there. I hadn’t seen them in years, and we talked about those basketball games like they happened yesterday.”
There are so many good times to remember. Major Paul Clarke Voelke will never be forgotten, certainly not by the family who loved him.
“The last time I spoke to him was the night before he left for Afghanistan. I told him I loved him; it comforts me a little bit knowing the last time I spoke to him I said that,” Tom said.
To sponsor Tom in the upcoming Tough Mudder on October 22nd, , please visit his donation page.
Tom humbly says, “Any little bit you can spare would be awesome.”
Tom Griffenkranz is a Bar Manager at Woodloch Pines.