Norman Dieter Grabowski – Colonel, United States Army

Sunday, August 13, 2006:

Norbert Dieter Grabowski, 71, a German-born U.S. Army Colonel who had a tense standoff with East German and Soviet border guards on a transport train in 1959, died July 26, 2006, of a stroke at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He lived in Warrenton, Virginia.


Colonel Grabowski was born in Breslau, which was then part of Germany. (The city is now known as Wroclaw, Poland.) Because his father was part Jewish, the family members were dispersed during World War II and lived with various German families. After the war, the family was reunited in the Bavarian city of Coburg before emigrating to New Orleans in 1950.

Colonel Grabowski graduated from Tulane University and entered the Army in 1957. He was a transportation specialist and often served as a translator on assignments in Germany.

In 1959, he was commanding a U.S. transport train traveling through East Germany when an East German refugee broke a window and boarded the train. When the train reached a border crossing, it remained stalled for 19 hours as Col. Grabowski argued for the refugee’s freedom. East German and Soviet authorities would not allow the train to proceed unless the refugee was released to their custody.

Finally, Colonel Grabowski received instructions from U.S. authorities to turn the refugee over to Soviet authorities to avoid an international incident. He did so reluctantly.

In 1998, he was reunited with the refugee when a German filmmaker made a documentary about the incident. The refugee served two years in prison and then lived quietly in East Germany until the communist regime fell in 1989.

Colonel Grabowski later served in Vietnam and held high posts in military transportation in Hawaii and Germany. He settled in Fairfax County in 1978 and worked in logistics for the assistant secretary of the Army from 1981 until his retirement in 1988. He received four awards of the Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and three awards of the Army Commendation Medal.

From 1989 to 2001, he was executive assistant to the president of the National Defense Transportation Association in Alexandria and served on its board of directors.

He was president of the Optimist Club of Central Fairfax and a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was also a member of the board of the Transportation Corps Museum Foundation.

His daughter, Arianne Grabowski, died in 1967.

Survivors include his wife of 43 years, Anava Guile Watkins Grabowski of Warrenton; a daughter, Judy-Anne Grabowski Wallace of McLean; and two sisters.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Colonel Grabowski was preceded in death by his daughter, Arianne and was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Grabowski of Metairie, Louisiana.

He is survived by his wife, Anava Guile Watkins Grabowski, daughter, Judy-Anne Grabowski Wallace, son-in-law, Timothy Wallace, and two sisters, Mrs. Marianne Jones of Greenbay, WI and Mrs. Judy Orozco of Metairie, LA and several nieces and nephews.

Burial services with Full Military Honors will be at Fort Myer on October 4, 2006, at 11 a.m. in the Old Post Chapel. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to one of the following: US Army Transportation Museum Foundation, P.O. Drawer D, Ft Eustis, VA 23004-0320, or The Optimist Club of Central Fairfax, P.O. Box 1271, Fairfax, Virignia 22038

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