Friday, September 21, 2007

Tell Gray has final memorial ahead of burial at Arlington

More than 300 people from across Eastern Montana gathered Thursday to honor one of their own, a fallen soldier who had remained steadfast to his mission despite raising questions about the war in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, of Ismay was remembered by family and friends as a "man of integrity," loving father to an infant daughter and dedicated soldier who from childhood had set his sights on joining the 82nd Airborne Division.

Gray, who went by his middle name Tell, realized that goal and was nearing the end of four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan when he was among seven paratroopers killed Sept. 10, when the truck they were riding in plunged off a highway overpass. Two suspected insurgents being transported as prisoners also were killed.

Just weeks earlier, an essay in The New York Times written by Gray and several other soldiers had questioned America's progress in Iraq. The soldiers wrote that claims of U.S. military gains were based on "flawed" assumptions and offset by political losses.

The uncertainties expressed in that article were largely absent from Thursday's memorial service at Grace Bible Church.

Pastor Pat Linger of the Ismay Community Church recounted Gray's upbringing on the family ranch and his determination from the age of 5 to enlist in the military.

"Tell wasn't a man of words. But the words he spoke meant something," Linger said. "It wasn't out of ruthlessness that he entered the military. ... This was his job, and he did it well."

A slide show during the service displayed pictures of Gray as an infant sharing a bath with his two siblings, as a preteen clad in camouflage and as an adult dancing with his mother at his wedding three years ago.

Linger also recounted how Gray, who joined the military right out of high school, earned numerous awards and recognition, including the Bronze Star. He met his future wife, Jessica, while on leave. They married after a courtship that spanned two combat tours, Linger said.

The couple had their first child, Ava Madison, in April. Gray saw his daughter during a brief two-week leave shortly after her birth.

During his eulogy, Linger mentioned just a single line from the New York Times essay. It was the last one, which read: "We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through."

Gray's hometown of Ismay, which, residents say, is the smallest incorporated town in Montana, is a ranching outpost made up of only a few houses, a grain elevator, a post office and a church. Gray's death hit its nine residents hard, said Kay Hoffman, who lives near the Grays and knew the soldier since he was a child.

His death, said Hoffman, "was something you didn't want to say out loud because that would make it true."

Gray's mother, Karen, said before Thursday's memorial that she had been overwhelmed following her son's death and the subsequent attention given to the essay in The New York Times, which was titled "The War As We Saw It." One of Gray's co-authors, Sgt. Omar Mora, also was killed in the Sept. 10 accident.

Some war opponents seized on the deaths as reinforcing what they saw as the futility of Gray's mission.

Karen Gray said she remembered her son as a loving child who took pride in his military career and looked forward to being a devoted father.

"I have no regrets that he was in Iraq. He was doing what he loved," she said. "My only regret is that he can't be a daddy for his little girl."

His funeral is planned for Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

From the Billings Gazette

Related Link:
Tell (Yance T.) Gray reported killed in Iraq