By AMANDA HAVERSTICK
La PORTE — A La Porte man who died in World War I was honored during a memorial service hosted by the American Legion Post that bears his name.
Members of the Hamon Gray Post 83 gathered in Pine Lake Cemetery on Tuesday evening to honor Lt. Hamon Gray. “Hamon Gray is the namesake of our American Legion Post, which was founded in 1919 when the Legion started. He’s from La Porte and he died of wounds in France during World War I,” said Post 83 Judge Advocate Wayne Zeman.
The post considers it their solemn duty to preserve Gray’s memory, along with the memory of what so many others have sacrificed for America, Zeman said. “There’s no living relatives of his family left.
The only way that his name and his memory stays alive, really, is through our post that’s named in his honor.” Zeman told those gathered that Gray, who was born on June 1, 1896, in La Porte, entered the Army at Fort Benjamin Harrison at the First Officers Camp on May 15, 1917, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant.
Gray went overseas with the American Expeditionary Force in September 1917 and was assigned to Company C, 9th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division. “Acting as a Regimental Intelligence Officer, he repeatedly carried important orders to the front lines through heavy fire,” Zeman said. “On July 3, 1918, he marched ahead of the assaulting troops with four scouts and while observing our advance, he captured the first five prisoners taken in that advance near Vaux, France.”
Interviewed in the midst of the wreckage was Gray, who said, according to Zeman, “the capture of the German soldiers was surprisingly easy. ‘When the barrage ended, we rushed in,’ he said. ‘Five Germans climbed out of a hole. They and I yelled Handehohe – which is German for hands up – simultaneously. I guess I yelled the loudest and they put theirs up. That’s all there is to that’.”
Zeman added that, according to a letter published on Feb. 13, 1919, in the La Porte Weekly Herald, Gray reportedly walked into a German dugout with a grenade in one hand and a pistol in the other and “wiped it clean.” He would die after being wounded in action in the Battle of Soissons. “On July 19, 1918, German artillery was tearing up the contested ground in ‘huge gulps’ and Gray was having difficulty advancing his column of soldiers,” Zeman said. “Gray, with gas mask on, was reportedly hit in the shoulder by machine gun fire as he led his men under the extreme bombardment. Other accounts attributed the injury to shrapnel.”
Gray died on July 20, 1918, at the age of 22. His body was returned to La Porte and buried with full military honors by members of American Legion Hamon Gray Post 83 on Jan. 16, 1921.
His awards include the Croix De Guerre with two silver stars, Croix De Guerre with Palm, Presidential Unit Citation (Brest, France), French Forragere, Purple Heart, WWI Victory Medal with Silver Star, and Battle Clasps for Soissons and Vaux. Post 83 Adjutant-elect Susan Levenhagen read a prayer at the ceremony.
“As we remember and honor the memory of our departed comrade and fellow veteran, Lt. Hamon Gray, we are indeed thankful for his service and sacrifice ... Remember Lt. Hamon Gray, oh Lord, in your mercy and have compassion on us,” she said.
The service concluded with the Honor Guard firing three volleys – one for honor, one for duty, one for country – and the playing of Taps. A wreath was placed at Gray’s grave and those in attendance placed pennies there as a sign of having visited. Pennies were also placed on the grave of Gray’s brother, Stuart Gray, who died of the Spanish flu at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 1916. He was a corporal in the Army at the time.
Zeman said a few years ago, a member of Post 83 came up with the idea of cleaning Gray’s stone, which had become covered in moss. “She came out and did it all by herself and didn’t say anything to anybody until after she had already done it. God rest her soul, she passed on two years from cancer – a young mother and veteran,” he said.
The memorial service was organized by Post 83 in advance of Memorial Day, Zeman said. “Too often people just get wrapped up in ‘Hey, we have a three-day weekend and we’re going to have a barbecue and all that.’
They don’t give a thought to why Memorial Day exists and to what it’s cost to keep our country free. Hamon Gray is an example of what it’s cost.”
This story originally appeared in the La Porte County Herald-Dispatch on May 26, 2022.