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.
“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.
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.
“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.