Remembering a great man

27 Oct 2000 | Cpl. S. Correll Heard

Many mounrned the recent loss of Brooks E. Gray, MGySgt. retired, who died on Oct. 8.Whether it was his innate ability to perservere through tough situations or his willingness to help those in need, the Greenville, S. C. native was a driven man who lived life to the fullest.A pioneer for African American service members, Gray devoted his life to helping others.In the CorpsHe joined the Marine Corps during World War II at Montford Point Camp, New River, N. C.This was a time when African Americans were not readily accepted into the Corps, and underwent training at a different training site from the rest of the recruits enlisting into the Marine Corps.Despite segregation he went on to serve proudly on the Marshall and Marianas Islands in the South Pacific. At the close of WW II Gray would receive his discharge. Still devoted to the Corps, Brooks helped establish the Pennadelphia detachment of the Marine Corp League a nonprofit veterans organization for all Marines, past and present. Their goal, to preserve the Corps' traditions and promote its interests.With the outbreak of the Korean conflict, Gray was part of a massive recall, and returned to the Corps as a reserve corporal.After being stationed at MCRD Parris Island, Gray was ready to take on the color barrier again as he wrote a letter requesting to become a Marine recruiter."The answer came back 'present assignment deemed appropriate,'" said Gray in a past interview. Although he was denied, his letter would later pay divedends.Eight years later in the setting of civil unrest and in an effort to ease tensions a public relations minded officer was going through files and came across Gray's letter. It was that letter that sent Gray and Leo McDowell to recruiters school. He finished fourth out of 43 and from 1963 to 1967 was responsible for bringing numerous young African Americans into the Corps.Montoford Point Marine AssociationDuring his tenure as a recruiter Gray along with several Marines and former Marines established the Montford Point Marine Association in Philadelphia, with Gray serving as its first national president. "He wanted to renew old friendships with the men that shared some of the same adversities," said MGySgt. Joe Geeter, Air Station Equal Opportunity Advisor.The nonprofit veteran's organization honors those first African Americans who joined the Corps between 1942 and 1949 at Montford Point Camp, New River, N. C. Those who have joined the organization say they did so because of what it stands for, to honor those who endured so much so future African American Marines could have the opportunity to serve."He had every right to be proud of his accomplishments," said Carolyn Ferren, administrative assistant at Yorktown Christian in Corpus Christi, Texas and member of the organization. "He started an organization many didn't think would last two years, let alone almost 40."The organization has grown from its headquarters in Philadelphia to expand to 26 chapters world wide to include Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Okinawa, Japan.The ManSince that time Gray has been a consultant for news articles and movies showing African Americans in the military.But these accomplishments pale in comparison to the effect he had on the lives of the individuals he touched. "This well-spoken man seemed to always have a knack of bringing out the best in those he met. Even at 74, his mind was as sharp as it was when he was a recruiter back in 1965 and was always willing to help others."I met him when I was a gunny about eight years ago where he did leave an impression," said Geeter. "But it wasn't until spring of last year when I finally really got to talk to him. From then on we were in constant contact. He kept me informed of what was going on. He wanted to keep the information flowing.""He was very active," Geeter. "Many have said I'm involved in a lot, but he has inspired many of things I've done.""I spoke to him in October of last year, and even at 74 he would not slow down," said Ferren. "He'd do radio shows in the morning, evening and mail out care packages."I'm not sure what drove him to be so active and forward, but there's nothing he wasn't into. I don't know who inspired him, I can only say it was someone like himself. Some people just have a drive to be successful. I don't know if it was what he went through, by nature or training."According to Ferren, after all his achievements and notariety he remained accessible and was very easy to talk to. "He was all about helping people," said Ferren. About a year-and-a-half ago a girl signed Ferren's web page guest book and was looking for some information about Montford Point. Ferren put her in direct contact with Gray. The young lady received an "A" on her paper, and Gray was just satisfied with helping one more person know the history. After meeting Gray for the first time during the Louisville Convention she grew very close to him and adopted him. A compassionate man, Ferren's daughter was also taken by the man and began calling him grandpa. Because of all that he has done for the Corps, last year Gray was inducted into the Montford Point Marine Association Hall of Fame. "I'm glad he lived long enough to be inducted," said Geeter. "Too many times we'll do it after they have passed away."The same setiment was expressed by others: his passing was a loss for the Corps and anyone who knew him. He will be surely missed.