SPRUCE PINE – Robert Carl Gray, 78, of 323 Carters Ridge Road, died Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2001, in Gainesville, Fla., following a heart attack after minor surgery.
Born Sept. 3, 1922, in Hazard, Ky., he was a son of Robert Ernest and Lennie Combs Gray. He was preceded in death by his wife of 38 years, Lois Glasscock Gray, who died July 27, 1981.
After graduating high school in La Grange, Ky., in 1940, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in October. Upon completion of basic training, he was selected to join the elite First Raider Battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. Merritt A. Edson.
As a member of “Edson’s Raiders” he participated in the U.S. effort in the South Pacific, including the battles of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. He received a field commission and was promoted to Second lieutenant for outstanding performance in the line of duty during campaigns against Japanese forces on the island of New Georgia and the British Solomon Islands.
After WWII, he returned to the U.S. and assumed the rank of sergeant major. During his 22 years of duty, he served in the Korean War, was assistant professor of Naval Science at the University of Southern California and acted as headquarters sergeant major at Camp Pendleton, Calif., the U.S. Marine base at Naha, Okinawa, and Camp Lejeune.
He was awarded many medals for bravery and service, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, Good Conduct Medal, Presidential and Congressional Unit Citations, Korean Campaign Ribbon with three battle stars, American Defense Ribbon, Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon and WWII Victory Ribbon. He was one of only a few military men to win both Army and Navy commendation medals.
After his retirement from the Marine Corps in 1961, he moved to Florida and took a position with Johnson and Johnson in the company’s military sales division. He served as their representative for the southern United States, Panama, Greenland and Iceland. During his 17-year association with Johnson and Johnson he consistently led his division in sales.
He retired in 1976 and relocated to Spruce Pine, was a member of the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce and the Optimist Club, as well as working with the United Way. His fund-raising efforts played a key part in the construction of the Mitchell County High School Stadium. In 1979-1980 he was named “Optimist of the Year” for outstanding contribution to his community. In 1982 he was named “Outstanding Citizen of the Year” by the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce.
Bob was a noted photographer and spent much of his time locating and photographing rare and endangered plant species of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He also worked as a “volunteer naturalist” on he Blue Ridge Parkway. It was during this time he met Gussie Carrell, also a naturalist and park employee. They were married in September 1986, and together they gave their time and knowledge to visitors along the parkway.
Surviving are his wife, Augusta Jayne Gray; a brother, James Curtis Gray of Louisville, Ky.; a daughter, Terri Gray Henson of Fayetteville; a son, Robert Carl Gray Jr. and his wife, Lin, of Brandon, Fla.; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; a stepson, George Thomas Carrell of Valdese; a stepdaughter, Ruth Carrell Bowen and her husband, Edward, of Lexington, Ky.; and two step-grandsons.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. May 12 at the Church of the Resurrection in Little Switzerland. After the church service, there will be graveside rites at Spruce Pine Memorial Cemetery, South Highway 226.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to your favorite charity.
Webb Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Historian’s note: We are unable to confirm that Robert C. Gray was ever awarded the Silver Star.