Thursday, January 17, 2008

Dahlgren Dining Hall Plaque is story of a hero

Capt. Robert Fuscaldo, former commander of NSWC, helps Gray family cut cake at ceremony.
Every diner who enters the enlisted dining hall at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren is greeted by a small brass plaque on the building’s entrance foyer.

It reads (in part): ‘‘Captain Douglas T. Gray, III, United States Army, a native of Dahlgren Virginia, was killed in Vietnam on 9 December 1969 while trying to save the lives of two wounded Vietnamese soldiers. He was serving as senior advisor to a company of Vietnamese Civilian Irregulars while conducting a search and clear mission in an area near the Special Forces camp located at Dak Pek, Kontun Province, Republic of Vietnam. Captain Gray was coordinating retaliatory air strikes on enemy rocket launchers when an enemy rocket impacted near his position inflicting a fragment wound in his chest killing him instantly. Captain Gray posthumously was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star for gallantry in action and the Purple Heart Medals...”

Other than that plaque, few, if any, now at Dahlgren know who Gray was or the biography of one of the most outstanding young people King George County ever produced.

Gray was born here on July 13, 1943 and grew up where his mother still lives on Ferry Dock Rd., near the Dahlgren marina. His parents met during World War II. His father was employed at Dahlgren but was at the former Camp Crop, S.C., near where his Carolina mother grew up.

Gray attended school here on base through the sixth grade, then transferred to the King George School system. At each institution, he recorded outstanding academic records and finished King George High School as an honor graduate. During the summers in high school and part of college, he worked at the base swimming pool and organized one of the area’s first swim leagues. He also was a standout athlete, staring in football and track.

After high school, he entered Virginia Tech, then applied and was the first individual from King George County to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy.

After graduation from West Point in 1967, Gray applied for the Special Forces, the Army branch begun under President Kennedy only five years earlier. He was assigned to the Army Airborne Ranger School at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he earned his Ranger Tab designation, Expert Infantryman Badge and Parachutist Badge. Then, after a brief stint at Fort Greely, Alaska, Gray was posted to Vietnam.

Back when a new Dahlgren galley was proposed, Capt. Robert P. ‘‘Bob” Fuscaldo and others at Dahlgren wanted it named for a hero. Fuscaldo was the last commander of NSWC to have seen combat in Vietnam (he was a commander of a patrol river boat in the Vietnamese delta regions) and was adamant about naming the new galley that he was getting built.

The Dept. of the Navy agreed and went about finding a naval one, however, Fuscaldo, and those who had know about Gray, added that it should be named for the local hero and stood firm against any deviation.

On March 17, 1989, the galley was dedicated and members of Gray’s family were the first to be served the galley’s initial meal. In attendance at the dedication ceremony were Army Col. Thomas H. Brett and Sgt. Major Luis J. Gutierrez, of the 18th Airborne Corps’ Dragon Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C.; Gray’s old Army outfit, as well as Woodrow ‘‘Woody” Saft, former chairman of the King George Board of Supervisors, and a longtime family friend of the Grays.

The memory and memorial to Doug Gray will long be at Dahlgren as long as the plague remains but it will be forever etched on the hearts of those who knew him. Recently, one of those was his former classmate Richard H. Gooding, ‘‘graduate of West Point, Class of 1967.”

Gooding is doing a eulogy to Gray for the West Point alumni magazine.

‘‘He was my best friend,” Gooding said.