France Awards Legion of Honor to U.S. Combat Medic at D-Day
March 26, 2012
On Sunday, February 26, a veteran in the United States Army deployed during the D-Day invasion of France’s Normandy coast was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor, France’s superlative award.
At age 92, Marion Gray, of Groveport, Ohio, was bestowed the medal by Consul Graham Paul, head of France’s Chicago consulate and the top French official in the Midwest region.
Mr. Gray was serving as a combat medic in the 29th Infantry Division when his unit was called to participate in the first of several operations to liberate occupied France. At just 24, Mr. Gray saw action as a part of the first wave of U.S. troops that charged the beaches on June 6, 1944 against some of the worst possible weather and military conditions.
- Marion Gray and his family.
Delivered to the beaches by boat, as close as possible without straying within range of the guns perched on the cliffs above, Allied soldiers were obligated to jump into a freezing, violent tide and swim the remaining distance to the beach.
According to Lt. Col. Patrick du Tertre, who spoke with Mr. Gray during the event, the young soldier managed to get to shore only after struggling through the surf with heavy, soaked gear. The same difficulties caused many of his fellow fighters to drown even before reaching solid ground.
Once on land, Mr. Gray searched frantically for the slightest cover from enemy fire, before immediately turning to administer aid to the numerous wounded around him.
- Consul Général Graham Paul
The soldier was then injured—struck by a bullet—but continued giving first aid. Once those nearest him had been attended to, Mr. Gray, armed with only a helmet and his field medicine bag, struggled to advance toward the wounded that lay prostrate ahead. He was struck a second time. After bandaging himself hastily, he turned to the others in need before ultimately passing out.
He couldn’t determine if it was from the pain, or from the shockwave of a nearby explosion.
Of the 126 men in his company that fought on D-Day, Mr. Gray recalled, only 18 were neither killed nor wounded. The veteran considers himself "lucky" not to have perished in the offensive.
And Mr. Gray didn’t stop after the Normandy invasion. Following a month in an army hospital, Mr. Gray volunteered to return to the front as part of the campaign to liberate Saint-Lô, another Normandy town.
His reason for doing so was courageous and simple: "My men needed me."