Henry Garvin Ray was a Southern Gentleman. He could charm the fuzz off a peach. Having a cup of joe in the galley and exchanging small talk was the most important part of a job. Being a Swamp Yankee with the inherited attitude of getting the job done and getting out of there, I never appreciated working with him, but I liked Henry a lot as a friend. His jovial spirit and ever present smile were much needed in 1943 at Karouba on Lake Bizerte.
He was always called by his full name . Thanks for this goes to the prying mind of Goldie , the group tease, who discovered the odd middle name and never called him anything else. It stuck.
I remember a time when Henry and I were heading up to the chow hall from the electric shop for the evening meal. He started telling me about his high school days when he ran the football. We were nearing one of the hangars. Now, the French had a custom of attaching a large bullet shaped
junk of cast iron at the base of the building comers to ward off damage from turning wagons. Henry got carried away and went stiff-arming an imaginary opponent without seeing that junk of cast iron. Well, that cast iron opponent threw him for a ten yard loss. I helped him up and we limped up to the chow hall. I wasn't believing his story anyway.
Just inside the electric shop's door was a product of the fertile mind of Henry Garvin Ray and Cookie. The Gray Marine diesel had a device somewhat like a model T Ford spark coil, only more powerful. It was used to ignite a small amount of diesel fuel which was pumped manually into the intake manifold and preheated it to aid in starting.
These two wizards had mounted one of these coils about 5 feet off the floor, hooked it to the test batteries under the bench and by pressing a bell button, one could light a cigarette in the space between two arcing wires. It worked quite well and was sort of taken for granted.
One day Henry, with his diplomatic ways, had secured a cigar from somewhere. Nobody else had seen one since the States. I was checking starters at the bench when he came in, proud as a peacock, displaying his prize. He proceeded to wet it down thoroughly before stepping to his invention. He pushed the button and came flying past me into the comer, his beautiful cigar smashed. I was laughing too hard to be of any help. Finally he gathered himself up, forced a feeble grin from his numbed lips and said, "I was waiting for some dam fool to do that." He disappeared, and I didn't see him for the rest of the day.
Of course while all this was going on, the war continued. The enemy had a pretty good information network. Jerry knew just about everything we were doing or planning to do. He pestered us constantly with air raids, but when the lake would fill up with ships, he would come in with some real heavy stuff.
I believe it was just before Salerno when the Luftwaffe came in with everything. I was in the barracks and could see the reflections and hear the explosions as the planes roared and their strafing slapped against the thick stucco wall.
At the end of the raid, I went over to the other side of the barracks. As I entered I slipped on something. There was a strange hushed silence. Someone came by with a flashlight and I saw the bright red blood on the black and white tile floor.
Something had landed in the street between the barracks and the chow hall, anti- personnel or unexploded shell, who knows? Henry Garvin Ray and Ottaviani, a motor mach in our group had been hit along with a number from another outfit down the street.
Ottavianni was hit in the legs and couldn't get up. Henry had been hit in the belly. He stuffed toilet paper in his wound and started to walk to the dispensary at the other end of the mall when the ambulance with the others picked him up.
Henry was hospitalized for several months. He never did regain all of that devil-may-care attitude. He went home after Southern France with a Purple Heart from his country and a belly full of iron. I have never seen him since.
Henry Garvin Ray, I salute you. Wherever you are.
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© 2000 LCT Flotillas of World War II ETO PTO