‘Jacques Eugene Grelley’

As a 5-year-old boy, Jacques Grelley fell headfirst off of a 12-foot wall. At 7 years old he was thrown 30 feet by an aggressive cow. He was somehow uninjured by both events.

By 8 years old, the French farm boy witnessed the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach. Grelley recalled the air smelling of gunpowder when his family piled into a covered wagon, not even having to tell the attached horse to move, it was already booking it. After finding shelter at an old farmhouse, the Nazis invaded the home and made Grelley’s grandmother cook for them.

Around age 11, he would go on to deliver messages printed on microfilm, hidden in his bike pedals, for the French resistance all around Normandy.

At 12 years old, he was taken to the first-ever Le Mans race, in 1949. The race was a test of endurance, lasting 24 hours. The winner was meant to be the car that put in the most mileage during the 24-hour race. After this, he was hooked.

Too young to drive in the race, he takes to collecting miniature cars and racing posters, quitting his cigarette habit to be able to fund his massively grown collection. At the 1955 race, Grelley narrowly avoided death when a car zoomed into the grandstands and exploded. The horrific accident brutally killed 83 spectators and driver Pierre Levegh and injured an additional 120 bystanders in the most catastrophic accident in racing history. Grelley was so close to the action that day that his glasses were covered in brain matter and his shirt drenched in blood so heavily he was provoked to take it off and leave it among the carnage before he left the scene where all his friends had died.

He was in such shock that he couldn’t speak for hours. Grelley walked home and found his family already in mourning. Grelley’s abandoned shirt had been found and he was presumed dead, this news somehow reaching the family before Grelley could make it home. A candle and a crucifix had been laid on the table as a memorial for him, but Grelley made it back to his family somehow physically unscathed.

Jacques Grelley escaped many an ill fate in his time on earth, winding up closely involved in several deadly situations. But every time, he escaped. Every time, he lived.

When Grelley went on to obtain his own successful racing career, he suffered several broken bones and injuries, but he lived. In 1959, the 23-year-old returned to Le Mans as a competitor. In the middle of the race he’d always dreamed of joining, his car broke down. Grelley went back in 1961, finished the Le Mans race, and packed up for the United States on a whim very shortly afterward.

In Georgia, Jacques Grelley worked at a dairy plant. In Chicago, he became a waiter so charming that a newspaper writer scribbled a quick article about his attentive serving skills. In Texas, Jacques Grelley became a wine importer’s representative before settling down to sell racing posters and memorabilia in Arlington.

Grelley passed away at age 78 in Texas, leaving a life full of stories behind. “He liked to live,” said his Arlington neighbor and friend of 30 years. May we all learn to embrace life, come what may, just as Jacques Eugène Grelley did

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