Charles left his home in the Green Pond community in Laurens county in 1942. He was 24 years old and would not return until November 1945.
He became a part of the 5th Army Air Corps and a member of the Night Fighters Squadron serving in the Pacific war against Japan. The Army Air Corps supported General MacArthur's "Island Hopping Plan" which enabled the United States troops to reach Tokyo faster with fewer American casualties.
Charles was at New Guinea, the liberation of the Philippines and then Okinawa and Japan itself . He achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. While in Okinawa, a major storm hit which swept away everything they had and Charles was left with hist-shirt, dog tag and his boxer shorts. His unit had to live off the land and sleep in Japanese catacombs for several weeks until they resupplied. The Battle for Okinawa was one of the most horrific of the war with Japanese kamikaze suicide bombers crashing into our ships and airfields and the mass suicide of mothers and children jumping off the cliffs into the sea.
Then the battle was won and on to Japan, but first two atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki and then Japanese unconditional surrender in August 1945. Joining other American troops, the Night Fighters came to the Japanese Main Island and were part of the occupation forces until November 1945 when they were sent home. Each was asked to take home a Japanese weapon of war and my dad brought home a rifle and a sword here on display here at the museum.
After arriving on the US West Coast, Charles and his unit were put on a train headed for Atlanta and Fort Macpherson to be discharged. The train wrecked in between the West Coast and Atlanta and Charles had to break out windows in an overturned car to get out and pull others out to safety.
He decided to just take a bus home from Atlanta and arrived on Main Street, Fountain Inn at the Triangle Drug Store. He stepped off the Trailways bus into peace.
Charles Evans Gray, Jr.
Charles in his parents' driveway in the Geenpond Community, Deck Road, Owings, SC. Four Years later he would have circled the globe and seen some terrible things that no one should ever have to witness. He was fortunate to return to this driveway as over 400,000 of his fellow US Service Men and Women would never return alive.
After the war, Charles was discharged at Fort McPherson, Georgia November 1945. He took a Trailways bus from there to Fountain Inn. He then walked from Main Street down to 300 Fairview Street to see his girlfriend Jimmie Mae Willis whom he had dated before the war. One of her older sisters Joyce Willis Richardson, who was 8 months pregnant drove him down to his parents home on Deck Road in Greenpond community.
When Charles got home from the War he got some really bad news. He had sent every pay check each month to his father and his father had spent every penny of it on a lumber truck. Charles had only his mustering out pay and the clothes on his back. He went to Belk and got a blue suit, white shirt and a tie and new shoes. He then went job hunting.
He got lucky and landed a good job in Miami with Western Electric. He left South Carolina for Florida which was booming at the time. He wrote his girlfriend (future wife) almost every day about how great things were there. She already had 3 brothers and a sister living there. (After our she died in 2017, her children discovered the letters she had saved from Charles in Miami.)
She had decided to go there and marry Charles! She packed her bags, told her parents, and was set to go when she got some bad news. Charles had contracted malaria again because he had stopped taking quinine too soon and the doctor in Miami told him leaving the tropical climate would help. He boarded a bus to return to Fountain Inn once more.
After he returned home to his parents and recovering from malaria, he worked in Fountain Inn at the Hardware Store and at Holland’s Market. Eventually he got the job he had for the rest of his life at Winn Dixie Warehouse on Wade Hampton Blvd, Taylors, SC. Charles worked there from 1948-1971. For the first nine years he commuted and then the family moved to be close to his work. His wife and son, Buddy were the most upset about the move. Buddy hated leaving friends and cousins.
Charles and his 3 children at his parents' house. Charles Jr (Buddy) B. Oct. 1,1947, Mary Jane B. May 19,1950, Martha Ann B. March 27,1953/Died from Cancer in 2007.
Charles died from a massive heart attack while talking to his wife at her work, TGY Department Store, directly across Wade Hampton Blvd from his job at Winn Dixie Warehouse. They we’re on their lunch break. The fire department was also right across the highway and were on the scene in literally no time. They said he was dead before he hit the floor. That was a terrible moment for the family.
Sadly, Charles never saw any of his children graduate from college but they all did. He never saw any of his kids marry but they all did and he never saw or knew a grandchild. He has six .