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Former Fort Gordon commander, county party chairman remembered

Posted: December 9, 2011 - 8:46am  |  Updated: December 9, 2011 - 8:59am
Mourners gathered Thursday for the funeral of Lt. Gen. Robert Gray, former commander of Fort Gordon and Columbia County Democratic Party chairman.  Emily Rose Bennett
Emily Rose Bennett
Mourners gathered Thursday for the funeral of Lt. Gen. Robert Gray, former commander of Fort Gordon and Columbia County Democratic Party chairman.

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Fort Gordon’s 27th commanding general was hailed at his funeral Thursday as a “national treasure” and “American hero.”

Peers of retired Lt. Gen. Robert E. Gray, 70, took turns at the lectern, speaking on the legacy of the veteran with 31 years of Army service and the character of a close friend they knew as Bob.

The current commander, Maj. Gen. Alan Lynn, drew chuckles from the crowd at First Baptist Church of Augusta with a story about how Gray commented on Lynn’s hairline at one of their first meetings. But Lynn also charted the rise of Gray and the accomplishments he compiled in the Signal Corps before his retirement in 1997. From Lynn’s perspective, Gray’s legacy was most about the young officers and soldiers he inspired.

“He had the natural ability to make all soldiers believe their success wasn’t just a possibility, but was in fact an expected outcome,” Lynn said.

Gray was the first black commander of the Army post, beginning in May to July 1990, and from August 1991 through July 1994. A Evans resident, in recent years he served as chairman of the Columbia County Democratic Party.

He was killed Nov. 23 in a two-vehicle wreck in Jenkins County, outside Millen, Ga.

Lynn said Gray’s spirit will continue to thrive in the Signal Corps, even among those he never met. Lynn gave the example of a moment of silence observed among signal troops during a recent trip to Kuwait. Even the woman cutting his hair on post offered her condolences; she had shared stories of Gray with her family for years.

“These are just a few examples (to show) our loss is a worldwide loss,” Lynn said.

Retired Maj. Gen. Wallace Arnold, a former commander of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps, said Gray benefited from an “intellectual swiftness that left most of us in the dust.” The procurement system he devised for the Signal Corps 20 years ago remains in place.

But what excited Gray the most was talking about up-and-coming officers and finding a way to lead them toward excellence.

“Mentoring, guiding and pushing that talent pool was his passion,” Arnold said.

For all of the great things Gray did for the Army, he was most happy at home with his wife, Annie, three children and seven grandchildren, said Brig. Gen. Vernon Spaulding, a past commander of Eisenhower Army Medical Center.

“He had a very special relationship with his wife,” Spaulding said.

At the conclusion of the remarks, a side door to the sanctuary was opened so that the congregation could hear the crack of a rifle salute and the playing of taps. The honor guard performed the ceremony of folding the flag draped over the general’s coffin and presented it to Gray’s wife.

Gray will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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