Remembering Marion Gray, one of the “Greatest Generation”

Soldier's photo is well-known to VA Facebook visitors


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Marion Charles Gray, an Army Medic who was with the first waves of invasion forces to hit Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944, passed away on July 28, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio, surrounded by his family. He was 96.

Gray saw the most hideous action on D-Day and was wounded twice that morning when his division took the worst punishment of the assault. Few of his comrades survived.

After spending 30 days in hospital back in England, Gray rejoined his company in Normandy, where they liberated St. Lo, then pushed through Cherbourg, Paris and into Belgium, and then Germany at the war’s end. He was among the soldiers who liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. Gray was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, French Legion of Honor and other medals.

Gray was born April 10, 1919, in Haydenville, Ohio. He left his pharmacy and pre-med studies at Ohio State University to join the Army on December 8, 1941, the day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

Following the war, Gray worked as a chemist, a sales manager and a business owner. He was involved in many community organizations including his church and the Masons. He was survived by two daughters and their husbands, four grand children and nine great-grandchildren, several nieces and nephews and many loving friends.

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“I came today with hopes of finding the man who served on my right, and the man who served on my left,” Marion Gray said as he stood in Normandy American Cemetery in France.

VA Facebook Cover Image

Marion Gray is featured on VA’s Facebook page. The photo is from the 65th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France in 2009.

Marion Gray’s portrait graces VA’s Facebook page. He was photographed with the American flag presented to him on June 8, 2009, when he, his son-in-law and his grandson were leaving the Normandy American Cemetery in France, at the very end of a long anniversary weekend celebrated by thousands of Veterans and world leaders. But by that evening, most of the participants had gone home and the anniversary was fast becoming a memory.

A real sadness had come over me and producer Crystal Ettridge when we realized this magical weekend bound by heroes, history, ceremony, and a perfect Norman country-side was ending. We searched for maybe one more connection before it passed.

We drove from Paris back to the cemetery just as it closed Monday evening. I roamed at a distance, looking for anyone who might be a Veteran, while Crystal found Gray, immaculate and handsome in his uniform, with his family standing near the flag poles flying American flags which dominated the sky above nearly 9,500 American dead.

Back then, French cemetery officials would survey visitors and recruit Americans, Veterans first, to participate in the flag lowering ceremony. On that evening, former Tech. Sgt. Marion Gray was the stand-alone choice. It was a quiet, little ceremony that moves me each time I revisit it, the thought of sacrifice and worlds lost, and courage, pride and friendship, of American youth dying on the beaches just below, and saving the civilized world.

Marion Gray at Normandy American Cemetery

Marion Gray, center, and family members at the Normandy American Cemetery in 2009 at the 65th anniversary of D-Day. VA Photo by Crystal Ettridge

“I came today with hopes of finding the man who served on my right, and the man who served on my left”, he told Ettridge after the ceremony. They and many other comrades had been on this bluff-top cemetery for nearly 65 years.

It was widely reported in 2009 that World War II Veterans were dying at a rate of 1,000 per day. Current statistics show that now 500 pass each day, a sad, natural equation.

We would like to thank Marion for allowing his photograph to be used to represent and immortalize American sacrifice and service. Marion Gray received care at the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Author

Robert Turtil

Robert Turtil is a public affairs specialist who produces still photography for a full range of Veteran and government related programs, personalities and events. He contributes regularly to VA’s digital efforts provides oversight to VA’s Flickr page.

Comments

  1. Daniel Hudgins    

    God Bless America and God Speed……

  2. Bryan Jackson    

    ty sir and god bless u ith all your friends who died their beside you and sir ty for serving and as a vet am proud of what u have done

  3. William Weedman    

    I intend to visit this cemetery one day, although I am a veteran I don’t think I’m worthy of lowering that flag. I will salute proudly as it is lowered.

  4. Ernest Wayne Robinson    

    The best way to honor Mr. Gray and his service to our nation is to acknowledge his sacrifice and to offer one last “THANK YOU”. All that served in WW II are heroes to someone. My hero was my Uncle Ed Robinson who served in Europe. Before he passed away a year ago, I had the opportunity to talk to him about his service. He became an open book and shared his thoughts and experiences with me. As he spoke, I noticed how his shoulders went straight back and his head was held high. He was proud at what he had done and it showed in his face. I saw the same thing in Mr. Gray. As a Vietnam Vet I’m starting to feel and see the same things in me. It’s only taken over 40 years to see it. Mr.Gray, my Uncle and all the men and women who served this country will forever be my brothers and sisters. But, the Vietnam Vets hold a very special place in my heart. We understand what it was like to be in a war and to come home to rejection. It is with great sadness that there are over 1,600 servicemen still not accounted for. We must not forget them. We have to bring them home to their loved ones. Thank you for allowing me to say what has needed to be said.

    Ernest W. Robinson

  5. r c lunsford    

    Thank you sir, and all who service

  6. Richard Gray    

    No more bonuses the people at the top give all that money and then some to veterans at the bottom they served and they say they are hurting and do something about that not keep getting bonuses for those who are stopping the help just because you can’t see pain that’s right no veterans get help for pain they have to be crippled before VA will help them

  7. Harrt DeSantis    

    What a great story of a true American HERO. He will now join the rest of his follow soldiers.
    God bless Mr. Gray and all of Greatest Generation. I salute you all.

    Harry M. DeSantis Msgt. USAF Ret.

Comments are closed.