By Sarah Richardson
On the bright and sunny afternoon of Friday, Aug. 7, friends and family of the late TSgt Ralph H. Ray (Nov. 13, 1922- Aug. 8, 2019) gathered at the Greenbrier River boat launch in Caldwell for a Memorial Bridge Dedication. TSgt Ray, a native of Anthony, served in the United States Army Air Corps in World War II from 1943 to 1945, and was a flight engineer on 30 successful missions with the 445th Bomb Group, 703rd Squadron.
After months of hard work, and the passing of House Concurrent Resolution 53, the Caldwell Bridge is now officially the “U.S. Army Air Corps T. Sgt. Ralph H. Ray Memorial Bridge.” Co-sponsoring the bill were Delegates Eric Nelson, Andrew Byrd, Moore Capito, Doug Skaff, Andrew Robinson, Jeff Campbell, and Cindy Lavender-Bowe.
The ceremony was opened by the Vietnam Veterans of America Eastern Highlands Chapter #1072 with a presentation of the colors and the playing of the National Anthem. Rev. Sharon Gearing led the gathering with a prayer before the first speaker, Delegate Nelson, took the podium.
“He was a great father, great husband, great community leader, loved the country, loved our state, and loved this county,” said Nelson. “It’s a great honor to do this today.”
Delegate Campbell followed in saying, “I did not have the honor and pleasure of knowing Mr. Ray, but I’ve heard a lot of great things about him since this process started back during the legislative session. I want to congratulate the family, because I know what pride it is to have this bridge named after him. The same thing happened for my father nine years ago, and it’s just a special place in your heart. Congratulations to the Ray family.”
“I’m honored to be here, and it was an honor to be a co-sponsor of this resolution,” said Delegate Lavender-Bowe. “I understand the importance of this, I’ve had a bridge naming in honor of my late uncle last summer, so as a family member I know how comforting and important this is. We carry our loved ones in our hearts, and our memories. These kinds of monuments are so important so the rest of the world and our neighbors understand the sacrifice they have made.”
“I, too, did not have the privilege to know Mr. Ray,” said Senator Stephen Baldwin, “but I understand we had something in common- and that was a love for the church. I understand Mr. Ray was very actively involved in the Grace Baptist Temple and the Enon Baptist Church. Folks tell me that he was a very tough man, and a very caring man, and that’s a unique gift.”
He added, “We stand here today proudly honoring the Ray Bridge over the beautiful Greenbrier River in almost heaven, Caldwell, West Virginia. As we honor him a year later, we know Mr. Ray is at peace, I pray this bridge and this river that runs beneath it will provide peace and contentment to the family as they pass over it, and for the community which surrounds it for generations to come.”
Alex Vaughn, a field representative for the office of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, read a statement on behalf of the senator, who was unable to attend. “It is an honor to be a part of this special commemoration to memorialize the life and service of TSgt Ralph H. Ray,” she wrote. “He served his country with distinction and honor, representing the embodiment of American bravery and heroism. It is fitting that an endearing monument be established to commemorate his contributions to the state and our country as a result of his military service.” Vaughn presented Ray’s family with an American flag which has flown over the West Virginia Capitol in Ray’s honor.
Mark Ray, Ralph Ray’s nephew, spoke on behalf of the family and said, “All four of Ralph’s wonderful daughters are here today, as well as a lot of other friends and family, his nephews, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, too. We are so gratified and so grateful for everyone recognizing Ralph, who we already held in high esteem.”
“Ralph was a flight engineer,” explained Mark. “The engineer, really, knew more about the B-24 than any other member of the crew, including the airplane commander. In an emergency, the airplane commander turned to the engineer. The duties of the flight engineer were to assist the pilot and co-pilot, and monitor performance of the engine and track the fuel burn. He was also in the upper gun turret, so there was a combat position that also gave him a good view to the engines to see if they caught on fire, which also made him the chief fire officer. … He would monitor the engines, generator, power system, and many engineers were also qualified for co-pilot duties. He was also the parachute officer, a first aid specialist, and assistant radio operator in case he ran out of things to do. … We will never know the nightmarish situations that Ralph and his crew faced in the noise, the smoke, the gloom, the frigid cold winds, with constant flack explosions and heavy gunfire. But what we do know is that facing battle 30 times required great courage in the face of danger.”
“The end of Ralph Ray’s life was not the end for him, or even for us left down on Earth, for he has left us a legacy,” said Mark. “A legacy wrapped up in a life lived with a sure expectation of glory, and a confidence that could bring joy to the very darkest of times.”
Family and friends proceeded to the bridge, guided by the color guard, and revealed the new signage for the bridge after officially cutting the ribbon. The new signs are located on both sides of the bridge, and will serve as a reminder for all who pass over of Ray’s sacrifice for our country.
TSgt Ray’s full biography is as follows:
TSgt Ralph Herman Ray was a native of Anthony, where he was born on Nov. 13, 1922 to his parents James Alfred Ray and Georgie Mae Spence. He was the oldest of five children. After skipping eighth grade, Ray graduated from Frankford High School at the age of 17, in 1940.
Following Pearl Harbor, he caught a bus from Lewisburg to Clarksburg for his enlisted physical, and then went on to Fort Haynes in Columbus, OH. He was then sent to Miami, FL for orientation before being sent to Gulfport, MS to be trained as an airplane mechanic.
In the spring of 1943, Ray transferred to the Ford Factory in Michigan. After graduating with his airplane mechanic diploma, he went to Laredo, TX for gunnery school. Upon completion, he was sent to Salt Lake City, UT. From there, in route by train to Casper, NY, he was assigned to a top notch flight crew, with whom he trained for three months before picking up their new B-24 from a factory in Topeka, KS. They flew it back to West Palm Beach to prepare for flying the long, southern route to England.
Flying only at night for protection, they left from the U.S. and traveled to Trinidad, to Liam Brazil, to Natal, Brazil, to Dakar, Africa, to Morocco, and on through the Atlas Mountains to Wales before settling down on Tibenham Base in east England. Although crews were later restricted to 26 missions, with Ray as their flight engineer his crew flew 30 successful missions bombing strategic installations in France and Germany before shipping home to the U.S. on the Aquitania. He was sent to the Douglas Plant in Santa Monica, CA to study transport plane maintenance.
For the remaining ten months of his enlistment, Ray was assigned to the Air Transport Corp in Miami, FL. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in flight. After his release from the Army Air Corp, Ray returned to West Virginia, where he was employed as an airplane mechanic at Bollinger Airport in Davis Creek, where he earned his civilian pilots license. He began training in early 1948 as a chemical technician with Westvaco (later owned by FMC) in South Charleston.
Ray met Mary Madeline Hudson of South Charleston in 1946, and married her on April 16, 1948. Together they raised four daughters, Valerie Ann Lyons, Angela Sue Ray, Verna Ray-Breux, and Anita Ray-Kirk, all graduates of South Charleston High, WV.
Ray retired from FMC in December 1984, and moved back to Anthony, where he and Mary joined the fellowship of the Enon Baptist Church, where his grandparents attended and are buried. Mary passed away in on December 9, 2018. Until he passed on August 8, 2019, Ray resided in Maxwelton with his daughter Angela.