Macon World War II vet is world's oldest active Harley dealer
Inside the Harley-Davidson dealership in Macon, World War II veteran Grover Sassaman puttered around on a mobility scooter, but his other ride is way cooler.
He drove in that morning on his 2010 Road King with a sidecar, adding to the more than one million miles he has logged on motorcycles since he first rode one when he was 11 years old.
Sassaman, 95, is the oldest active Harley-Davidson dealer in the world. He is the first person to show up at work every morning, typically getting there at least an hour before anyone else. He has no plans of retiring.
“I enjoy talking to my customers,” he said as he sat in a lounge area among the many gleaming bikes in the showroom. “I have customers who come from everywhere. They want to meet me. They say I’m a legend, but I tell them I’m just Grover.”
In World War II he served in the Marines in the Pacific. He was an aircraft mechanic in Gregory “Pappy” Boyington’s famed Black Sheep Squadron, which fought the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. Boyington shot down 28 Japanese planes and was awarded the Medal of Honor.
But for Veterans Day this year, it’s not his buddies in the war Sassaman is remembering. He has sold many motorcycles to area law enforcement agencies, and this year he is feeling a kinship with the sacrifice that law enforcement officers make.
Four law enforcement officers across Middle Georgia have died in the line of duty this year, including two Peach County deputies who were shot Sunday. It has been making Sassaman think of the death he saw during the war.
“It’s disheartening the way these police officers are getting killed,” he said. “There’s no reason or rhyme for this going on.”
He blames it on a lack of discipline in youths today.
“I had to walk a chalk line when I was growing up,” he said. “My dad didn’t hesitate laying the switch to me.”
His father was a college professor.
“He could have never taught in this day’s environment,” Sassaman said. “They would have had him locked up.”
Still carries Japanese shrapnel
Sassaman was awarded a Purple Heart during World War II.
It happened on March 2, 1945. He and his crew mates heard the distinctive sound of an approaching Japanese plane, and they jumped into foxholes. The plane dropped an anti-personnel bomb designed to spray shrapnel. Some of that shrapnel found its way into Sassaman’s hole and struck him in his hip and leg. He still carries it in his body.
“When I go to the airport, they act like I’m a criminal,” he said.
But he continued to fight in the war. He was preparing to get on an aircraft carrier for the invasion of the Japanese mainland when the word came that the atomic bomb had been dropped. The war was soon over, and Sassaman was headed back home.
He went right away to the Harley-Davidson factory and soon had a dealership in Indiana. It was a one-man operation, he said, and he grew it by foregoing any extravagant spending on himself.
“Anything I made I put it right back into the business,” he said. “I kept on putting it back into the business.”
He eventually got a dealership in Lakeland, Florida, and in 1957 he relocated to Macon. He has been here ever since.
Buster Hickman, a Harley rider, said Sassaman is well-known in Harley circles.
“He is always passionate not just about people who come there to buy bikes but he is always passionate about representing our community very well,” he said.
Hickman said he knows a few Harley riders in their 80s, but he didn’t know of anyone else over 90 who is still riding.
He also said Sassaman is a ladies man.
“His main goal in life right now is to make all women smile,” he said.
Sassaman’s mobility scooter is only temporary. He can get up and walk, but he has been using the scooter due to some issues with his knee.
He credits his good health to having never drunk alcohol or smoked in his life — and to riding motorcycles.
“It’s as relaxing as it can be,” he said. “You are closer to the environment.”
He said he’s had just one accident, and it was a minor one. He wasn’t injured and his bike didn’t even go down. He credited his safety record to staying alert at all times.
“You’ve got to be alert, even when you are driving a car,” he said.