Sergeant Ross F. Gray's Medal of Honor

In the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history, 27 Marines and sailors were awarded the Medal of Honor for action on Iwo Jima. No other campaign surpassed that number.

Marvel Valley, Alabama native Ross Gray worked as a carpenter after high school. Although he never called himself a conscientious objector, Gray was very religious, and had even studied to go into the ministry. However, he joined the Marine Corps in 1942, where he continued to read his bible daily and even hold church services. Gray was called “Preacher” by his buddies, and in deference to his devout faith, was assigned work as a carpenter for the first two years after he joined the Marine Corps, keeping him out of combat.

That all changed on Saipan when Gray’s best friend was killed. Despite any misgivings he may have had, Gray picked up a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and stormed to the frontlines, ready to kill the enemy. After fighting on Tinian and in the Marianas, Gray received training in mine warfare. He learned how to lay mines, perform reconnaissance of minefields, disarm mines, and how to clear a minefield. With that experience, Gray landed on Iwo Jima with the 4th Marine Division.

On February 21, 1945, in charge of an A Company platoon, Gray caught sight of a camouflaged pillbox. He quickly realized it had to be neutralized. He turned to his fellow Marines and said, “Pray for me.” Gray dropped his weapon and picked up a demolitions satchel charge. Running, he began to zigzag through machine gun fire and a mortar barrage, making his way to the pillbox. As the charge went off, blasting the pillbox, Gray ran back to his platoon. He continued the routine five more times, demolishing six enemy positions and killing 25 Japanese defenders. Only as his platoon moved forward did they realize that he had been running through a minefield. Following the path he had taken, the platoon was able to move through the minefield without setting off any of the mines.

For his brave action on February 21, Gray was awarded the Medal of Honor. It was presented to his father in 1946. On February 27, Gray had been hit by an enemy shell, suffering fatal wounds to his legs. Sergeant Ross Gray was 24 years old.

Medal of Honor Citation for Sergeant Ross F. Gray

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Acting Platoon Sergeant serving with Company A, First Battalion, Twenty-Fifth Marines, Fourth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, February 21, 1945. Shrewdly gauging the tactical situation when his platoon was held up by a sudden barrage of hostile grenades while advancing toward the high ground northeast of Airfield Number One, Sergeant Gray promptly organized the withdrawal of his men from enemy grenade range, quickly moved forward alone to reconnoiter and discovered a heavily mined area extending along the front of a strong network of emplacements joined by covered communication trenches. Although assailed by furious gunfire, he cleared a path leading through the mine field to one of the fortifications then returned to the platoon position and, informing his leader of the serious situation, volunteered to initiate an attack while being covered by three fellow Marines. Alone and unarmed but carrying a twenty-four pound satchel charge, he crept up the Japanese emplacement, boldly hurled the short-fused explosive and sealed the entrance. Instantly taken under machine-gun fire from a second entrance to the same position, he unhesitatingly braved the increasingly vicious fusillades to crawl back for another charge, returned to his objective and blasted the second opening, thereby demolishing the position. Repeatedly covering the ground between the savagely defended enemy fortifications and his platoon area, he systematically approached, attacked and withdrew under blanketing fire to destroy a total of six Japanese positions, more than twenty-five of the enemy and a quantity of vital ordnance gear and ammunition. Stouthearted and indomitable, Sergeant Gray had single-handedly overcome a strong enemy garrison and had completely disarmed a large mine field before finally rejoining his unit and, by his great personal valor, daring tactics and tenacious perseverance in the face of extreme peril, had contributed materially to the fulfillment of his company’s mission. His gallant conduct throughout enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”


Kali Martin

Kali Martin earned a bachelor's degree in International Studies and German at the University of Miami and a master's degree in Military a...
Learn More