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Harry D. Grunwell, retired Army warrant officer and linguist, dies at 66

Harry Dutton Grunwell, a retired Army warrant officer with a talent for linguistics and computers, died Dec. 5 at Howard County General Hospital from complications of multiple sclerosis. The Marriottsville resident was 66.

Mr. Grunwell was born in Ogden, Pa., the son of Paul and Bernice Grunwell. He graduated in 1963 from Chichester High School in Pennsylvania, where he was class president his last two years.

In his senior year, Mr. Grunwell was voted "most talented" for his skill at the piano and "most dependable," said Norman Guarinello, who became friends with Mr. Grunwell in sixth grade when they competed against each other in sports.

"If he said something to you, you knew it was the truth," Mr. Guarinello said. "And if he said he was going to do something, he followed through with it."

Mr. Grunwell attended Pennsylvania State University and graduated in 1967. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968, and shortly thereafter was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., to be trained as a Korean linguist. Mr. Grunwell had a facility for languages and later became an instructor at the institute, his family said.

After several months in California, Mr. Grunwell proposed over the phone to his high school sweetheart, Marie Iacono, and asked her to come to California to be married.

"The first time he proposed, I said, 'No,'" said Mrs. Grunwell. She wanted a big wedding in Pennsylvania surrounded by her extensive Italian family, she said. But a week later, Mr. Grunwell proposed again, and this time on the advice of her father to follow her heart, she agreed. Her family threw a large shower for her at a local firehouse, then she packed up a cake and her wedding dress and took her first flight on an airplane. The couple married in September 1968.

During his military career, Mr. Grunwell worked in Army intelligence and cryptography. He served six year-long tours of duty in Korea, and part of that time he commanded the helicopter surveillance program in the Demilitarized Zone, his family said.

In 1979, he was stationed at Fort Meade. He remained there until he retired in 1990 as a chief warrant officer 4. He was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal in 1982 and the Legion of Merit in 1990, his wife said.

Larry Grim, who served with Mr. Grunwell at Fort Meade, recalled that many of the soldiers entered the Army in the 1980s with only a high school diploma. Mr. Grunwell was unusual at the time because he motivated those serving under him to get a college degree and made sure they had the time to pursue their studies, Mr. Grim said.

"He recognized that people who got an education were recognized by faster promotions," Mr. Grim said.

After his military retirement, Mr. Grunwell became a computer network engineer. He worked for California Microwave Systems in Belcamp and Sparks-based McCormick & Co. Inc., helping the spice maker through Y2K without a glitch, his family said.

"He was very smart. He knew stuff about everything," said his daughter, Jeanne Marie Ford of New Market.

Mr. Grunwell, who didn't talk about himself much or of his work in military intelligence, would sometimes surprise his daughter with the scope of his expertise. For example, she said, she discovered her father had been a code-breaker when he helped her out with a school assignment on code-breaking.

"He never let me think I couldn't do anything," added Mrs. Ford, noting that her father thought she could run track in high school as well as the boys if she put her mind to it.

Mrs. Ford, a writer for the soap opera "Days of our Lives," said her father was an avid reader who frequently gave her ideas for books, usually with an espionage theme. "They were really good ideas," she said.

A memorial service is planned for spring 2013 at Arlington National Cemetery.

Mr. Grunwell was preceded in death by a brother, William Grunwell. In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Grunwell is survived by a brother, Edward Grunwell of Boothwyn, Pa.; and two grandchildren.

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