Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend

Below is the story of my friend's dad.  Twylia wanted to share the story of her favorite soldier of all.  It tells of the sacrifices veterans often make so that we may enjoy the freedom of peace-enjoyed everyday living.  May we all remember those of the past and present.  Veterans---They all give some but some gave all.

With Memorial Day fast approaching, I am thinking of my dad, Harley N. (Bud) Gray, a WWII soldier, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in early June, 1941, just after he had married my mother, Ruby Burchell Gray, on May 17 in Crossett, Arkansas.  May 17 would have been their 70th wedding anniversary.

After boot camp at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, my Dad served in the Asiatic Pacific Campaign and was severely injured at Guadalcanal on May 11, 1943.  Prior to that he had been stationed in the Fiji and Solomon Islands with other men in his company, many from Ohio and West Virginia.  When injured, he was near a soldier who stepped on a land mine and Daddy was hit directly in the throat and legs by shrapnel.  A large piece of shrapnel literally cut his throat and shattered his jawbone….he lost his bottom teeth and his tongue was exposed through his neck.  A buddy, Sgt. E. A. (Dave) David, held him up so he would not strangle on his own blood.  He was so badly injured, they left him under a mosquito net for three days waiting for him to die.  When he didn’t, he was transported to Auckland, New Zealand where he began a long 23-month journey to recovery.   A bone was grafted from his leg to his face to reconstruct a new jawbone and his mouth was wired shut for eight months.  During that time, he was on a liquid diet and suffered a severe weight loss (see picture).  He returned to a hospital in the United States…in San Francisco…in July of 1943 and then was transferred numerous times to various other hospitals within the states….including army hospitals in Pennsylvania, Texas, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas.  He was honorably discharged after his full recovery on April 2, 1945 (though he carried the scar underneath his chin and the shrapnel in his legs for the rest of his life).  He opted not to have plastic surgery, after my mother told him if he could live with the scar so could she.  From the letters that I have of my mother’s from Sgt. David and from the stories that we have heard from other Army buddies (though they did not talk about it often), we understand that Daddy had a very strong desire to live and return to Mother so that they could have their life together.  Sgt. David wrote, “The fortitude he has shown has won for him the admiration of all who came in contact with him.  I have yet to see a man more courageous than he. You, yourself, Mrs. Gray, gave him the inspiration and the will to recover.” I am not kidding when I say that “I am here by the grace of God”, but then I suppose we all are.

Sgt. David and my dad were never reunited after the war, although Daddy did reunite with many others from his company fourteen years later, and remained in close contact with some of them until his death on January 4, 1998.  In June of 1995, Dave’s daughter, Carol Falone, called Mother and Daddy to let them know that she had found two letters that Daddy had written to Mrs. David (Dave’s mother) during that same time (1943).  Sgt. David had passed away that year (1995) and the letters were among his possessions.  Carol was born in April of 1946; she is just four months older than I am.  I found her letter to Mother after my mom passed away on May 1, 2000….I called Carol on Memorial Day of that year and we “met” over the phone and shared our thanksgiving for our fathers.  I still have the letters she sent.

Though my father did not see a lot of battle, and actually was not killed during combat, he is a hero to me, as he served to preserve our freedoms just as those who were on the front lines did.  Daddy remained a very proud veteran of the U. S. Armed Forces throughout the remainder of his life and was always totally supportive of veterans and men and women in service to our country.  He never complained about his injuries, though I know they did cause him hardship at times.  Because of his service and the example he set for me, I too am a blessed U. S. citizen who cringes at the thought of anyone who wants to burn the American flag or criticize this land of liberty.  I know for a fact, and from Daddy’s suffering, that our freedom has come at a great cost and a great sacrifice.  I am deeply appreciative to Daddy and to all the other men and women who have contributed, and who are still contributing, to preserving our country.  We truly cannot thank them enough!