The year 1964 was a period of social unrest in Mississippi, and Willie Gray decided he wanted to make a difference, so he volunteered to join the U.S. Army. Both his brothers were already serving, and Willie wanted to follow in their footsteps. Between the three of them, they gave our country almost 50 years of service.
Willie was sent to Fort Pope, Louisiana for Basic Training, and at that time, Vietnam was only considered a conflict. He was there for 6 weeks and then on to Fort Lee, Virginia for 8 weeks of Advanced Training. After a short leave, he was sent to Crailsheim, Germany. After 18 months of snow and cold, Willie returned to Fort Lee, and by that time, Vietnam was in full swing. In 1966, the 516th QM Company was sent to California where Willie and his unit boarded a ship for Vietnam. They spent 39 days at sea, and he still experiences nightmares from being thrown and tossed about because of the high seas and storms they went through.
Willie speaks about the camaraderie he experienced with his fellow soldiers in Vietnam and the true brotherhood he felt. They all watched out for each other and became very close. When he returned to the United States, he found himself fighting a different war. There was social unrest, the Civil Rights Movement was going strong, and he was in the middle of it. Willie found it hard to understand how an 18-year-old could serve his country, fight in a war so far away and come home to a place that seemed to be a contradiction. He wasn’t treated well, and he missed the brotherhood and camaraderie he felt with his buddies in Vietnam.
When Willie was discharged in 1975, he was living day to day and found it hard to re-integrate into society after undergoing the most intense, conflicting experience of his life. He realized he was misunderstood because most people didn’t understand the Vietnam conflict. There was little concern for the troubles Veterans would experience after they returned home from Vietnam.
Willie finally received support and help through his family. He is so proud of them and what they have become. “They offered so much support. They helped me not want to give up. My family has given me so much to live for,” says Willy. “My wife of 30 years is the wind beneath my wings! I was a ship without a rudder, and she has given me purpose.”
Purple Heart Homes was able to re-wire the electrical system in the Gray’s home and install a new HVAC. “It is so beautiful what Purple Heart Homes has done for me. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate the help. I can now sleep at night and not worry.”
Thank you for your service Mr. Gray. We welcome you and your wife, Delores, to our Purple Heart Homes family.