HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - LTC (Ret.) Richard Gray already devoted his life to his country before the Vietnam War called him to the front lines. After a tour in Korea, he commanded the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.
The year was 1959. Hawaii just entered the United States and a young Richard Gray entered the US Army as an appointment to West Point from the Aloha state.
"That's how I entered West Point," LTC (Ret.) Gray said. "I graduated from there and went infantry to Korea for my first tour, that was in '64. In '65, I volunteered and went to Vietnam for my first tour where I was a reconnaissance platoon leader for the 14th Infantry 25th division. I served a year there, came back, met my lovely wife at Fort Knox, Kentucky, went then of course, in those days, went right back to Vietnam."
These experiences helped him navigate the Vietnam battlegrounds.
"We got our leaders from the draft," LTC (Ret.) Gray said. "They were shake-and-bake sergeants which you can probably do with a lieutenant but when you have your whole chain of command is 90-day wonders, you've got some problems."
But, Gray recalled the lack of experience did not mean an absence of ambition.
"Those are the guys that gave it their all, they're not the volunteers and all this thing that you hear about," LTC (Ret.) Gray said. "They're just ordinary folks doing extraordinary things."
The Vietnam War left a visible mark on Gray's life. He wears a prosthetic leg, but it's the memory of his men that brightens any darkness.
"One of the greatest honors you could have, and the greatest thrill, is to lead the American fighting man into combat," LTC (Ret.) Gray said. "I had that honor and I had that experience, and it's just hard to explain it but they are extraordinary people."
Extraordinary people who stood shoulder to shoulder with Gray as he made life and death decisions. Among other awards, he also received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with Valor and a couple of other Bronze Stars. Now, the Madison County Military Heritage Commission is inducting him into the Hall of Heroes.
"That was the most exciting time of my life," LTC (Ret.) Gray said. "Just a phenomenal experience."