Ross Franklin "Deacon" Gray (born August 1, 1920 in Marvel; died February 27, 1945 on Iwo Jima) was a US Marine who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic service in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. He single-handedly disarmed an entire mine field while under heavy enemy fire. He was killed in action six days later.
Gray was one of nine children born to Benjamin Franklin Gray in Marvel Valley, between West Blocton and Montevallo. He attended Bibb County Schools and went on to Centerville High School where he played both football and basketball. He left after his junior year in 1939 to work with his father as a carpenter. On July 22, 1942 he came to Birmingham to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve and was immediately assigned to active duty.
Marine Corps service
Gray's recruit training took place at Parris Island, South Carolina, after which he was assigned to New River, North Carolina where he joined the 23rd Marines, 4th Marine Division. He was promoted to private first class in April 1943 and transferred to Company A, 1st Battalion 25th Marines, a month later, stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California.
Gray left for overseas duty on January 13, 1944 and landed at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands where he took part in the Roi-Namur campaign. He was made an engineering corporal in March and in June made another assault landing — this time at Saipan. At the conclusion of the fighting at Saipan, Gray took part in the landing on Tinian Island, also in the Marianas.
Promoted to sergeant in August, Gray attended the 4th Marine Division Mine and Booby Trap School, upon completion of which he was rated qualified to instruct troops in the laying of mine fields; the reconnaissance of enemy minefields, day and night; the location, neutralization, disarming, and removal of mines; the neutralization of booby-trapped mines; and the day and night clearance of lanes through minefields. Examined and found qualified for promotion to the rank of staff sergeant, Gray, due to the lack of openings for that rate in his organization, was never promoted to the third pay grade.
On February 21, 1945, two days after D-Day on Iwo Jima, Gray was acting platoon sergeant of one of Company A's platoons which had been held up by a sudden barrage of Japanese hand grenades in the area northeast of Airfield No. 1. Promptly withdrawing his platoon out of range of the grenades, he moved forward to reconnoiter. He ascertained that the advance was held up by a series of enemy emplacements connected by covered communication trenches and fronted by a mine field.
Through a hail of enemy small arms fire, Gray cleared a path through the mine field up to the mouth of one of the fortifications, then returned to his own lines, where with three volunteers, he went back to the battalion dump and acquired twelve satchel charges. Placing these in a defiladed area within his platoon that was protected from immediate enemy fire, he took one weighing twenty-four pounds. Under covering fire from the three volunteers, Gray advanced up the path he had cleared and threw the charge into the enemy position in order to neutralize it.
Immediately brought under fire from a machine gun in another opening of the same position, Gray returned to the defiladed spot, obtained another charge, returned to the position and this time completely destroyed it. Spotting another emplacement, he went through the mine field for the seventh and eighth time to get another charge and destroy another enemy stronghold.
He continued this one-man attack, all the time under heavy small arms fire and grenade barrage, until he had destroyed six enemy positions. At one time a Japanese grenade landed so close to him that it blew his helmet off. Throughout, he went unarmed so that he could more easily carry the charges and accessories. When he had eliminated the six positions, Gray disarmed the whole mine field before returning to his platoon.
Although he remained unscratched through his twelve trips back and forth among enemy mines, constantly under heavy fire, Gray was killed six days later, on February 27, 1945, by an enemy shell which inflicted fatal wounds in his legs. For his personal valor, daring tactics, and tenacious perseverance in the face of extreme peril on Gray was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman.
The award was presented to the Gray's father on April 16, 1946 by Rear Admiral A. S. Merrill at Centerville High's football field in the presence of Governor Chauncey Sparks. Gray was initially buried in the 4th Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, but later his remains were returned to the United States for private burial in the Ada Chapel Bible Methodist Church cemetery outside West Blocton. The frigate USS Gray (FF-1054) was named for him.
Medal of Honor citation
- For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Acting Platoon Sergeant serving with Company A, First Battalion, Twenty-Fifth Marines, Fourth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, February 21, 1945. Shrewdly gauging the tactical situation when his platoon was held up by a sudden barrage of hostile grenades while advancing toward the high ground northeast of Airfield Number One, Sergeant Gray promptly organized the withdrawal of his men from enemy grenade range, quickly moved forward alone to reconnoiter and discovered a heavily mined area extending along the front of a strong network of emplacements joined by covered communication trenches. Although assailed by furious gunfire, he cleared a path leading through the mine field to one of the fortifications then returned to the platoon position and, informing his leader of the serious situation, volunteered to initiate an attack while being covered by three fellow Marines. Alone and unarmed but carrying a twenty-four pound satchel charge, he crept up the Japanese emplacement, boldly hurled the short-fused explosive and sealed the entrance. Instantly taken under machine-gun fire from a second entrance to the same position, he unhesitatingly braved the increasingly vicious fusillades to crawl back for another charge, returned to his objective and blasted the second opening, thereby demolishing the position. Repeatedly covering the ground between the savagely defended enemy fortifications and his platoon area, he systematically approached, attacked and withdrew under blanketing fire to destroy a total of six Japanese positions, more than twenty-five of the enemy and a quantity of vital ordnance gear and ammunition. Stouthearted and indomitable, Sergeant Gray had single-handedly overcome a strong enemy garrison and had completely disarmed a large mine field before finally rejoining his unit and, by his great personal valor, daring tactics and tenacious perseverance in the face of extreme peril, had contributed materially to the fulfillment of his company's mission. His gallant conduct throughout enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
- Sergeant Ross Franklin Gray, USMCR, Who's Who in Marine Corps History. Marine Corps History Division.
- Ross Franklin Gray at findagrave.com
- Gray, Jeremy (May 22, 2013) "From Bibb County to Iwo Jima, 'Deacon' Gray shared the Gospel and gave his life." The Birmingham News