Charles Gray: Patriot, veteran and entrepreneur

Published 5:03 pm Saturday, August 26, 2017

World War II has now been over 62 years. Fortunately, there are still some of the men and women who participated in it here to talk about it. Selma resident Charles A. Gray, former proprietor of Gray’s Furniture, is one of those men. In Charles’s case, looks are deceiving, and he looks much younger than his years. He was just a lad of 19 when the United States officially entered the war.

Charles Gray did not start out life in Selma. He was born in Austin, Texas, where his father was employed by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The road to Selma took many twists and turns before ending here. Not that he set out to become a resident, but fortunately for Selma he did. Actually, Selma was probably the farthest thing from his mind until matrimony entered the picture.

At about the age of 8 or 9, his father was transferred from Austin, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia. Later, yet another transfer by Goodyear brought the family to Birmingham. It was here he graduated high school at Phillips High School in the class of 1941, page 19 of the school yearbook, The Mirror. Although the family lived in the Trussville area, Charles rode into school each morning with his father going to work.

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At graduation time, our country was not yet officially at war, but war was raging in Europe. After weighing all the prospects, Charles decided to enroll in a military school. He chose The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. Established in 1842, it is one of six Senior Military Colleges in the United States. However, the critical need for bomber crews in the U.S. Army Air Corps a year and a half later resulted in receiving greetings from Uncle Sam. Charles was drafted out of military school into the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943.

No one can accuse the Air Force, or as it was called back then the Army Air Corps, of not going first class. Charles was sent to Miami, Florida for an abbreviated, or at best a rushed up, basic training. Upon completion, he drew pre-flight training at Lakeland, Florida. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for the Japanese, Charles had a depth perception deficiency disqualifying him from becoming a pilot. Therefore, the Air Corps decided to train him to be a B-17 bombardier.

The B-17 bombardier school was in Carlsbad, New Mexico. At Carlsbad, he learned the fine art of being a bombardier using the newest technology, the Norden bomb sight. The Norden bomb sight greatly increased the accuracy of aerial bombing. In addition to bombardier school, he also had to complete gunnery school.

Apparently Charles was very good at his military occupational speciality (MOS) as he was chosen and transferred to the Air Corps Training Command at Maxwell Field (Maxwell Air Force Base) in Montgomery. At Maxwell, he helped train B-17 pilots to coordinate with bombardiers during bombing runs. In the B-17, the plane upon reaching the target was turned over to the bombardier until the bombs were away.

By this time, the war in Europe was winding down and the war in the Pacific was still ongoing. It appeared an invasion of the Japanese mainland might be necessary. Therefore, Charles received orders to Omaha, Nebraska where new B-17 bomber crews were being assembled. They were issued all their flight gear including sidearms and instructions on parachutes. Their destination was to be Okinawa to await further orders. Meanwhile, as they were training and making final preparations, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug, 6, 1945. After this event, everything froze in place.

The second atomic bomb was dropped three days later August 9, 1945 on Nagasaki. After the second bomb, they were informed they would be discharged and sent home.

Charles arrived back home in Trussville the first part of September 1945.

He enrolled in the University of Alabama and began classes in January 1946. Credits from his studies at The Citadel allowed him to graduate in 1948 as an industrial engineer. However, during this time a life changing event occurred. A young lady from Selma, Margaret Lucille Fuller known to many as “Marcille,” who had been studying in Virginia decided to attend a summer session at the University.

The two met and after a courtship of roughly a year and a half were married on April 9, 1949. This past April marked their 68th anniversary of marriage.

The two are devoted to each other and faithful members of Christ the King Cathedral.

Charles’s first job out of college was as an industrial engineer at Avondale Mills in Sylacauga.

The textile mills were beginning to experience fierce competition from foreign entities during his employment. After a year and a half in the textile industry, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and accepted a salesman job with Goodyear Tire and Rubber company in Augusta, Georgia. After about six months on the job, his father in Birmingham had a heart attack and died. This tragic event prompted the need to be closer home to help see after his mother. This time the move was to Selma as office manager of the Goodyear store.

After all the transfers and moving around, Selma would become their permanent home. The appliance business was booming and with Craig Field active here, the opportunities were too. In 1960, Charles and Marcille decided to open up a business of their own as a partnership. They bargained father and father-in-law, Dr. John A. Fuller, out of a boarding house property on Broad Street. They made an addition to the front and remodeled the older portion making it into a store. Gray’s Furniture was launched and has remained in the same location ever since. It has provided Selma with appliances and fine furniture for some 57 years until closing this spring.

Charles and Marcille operated the store for 29 years before turning it over to their daughter Margaret Cogle. Margaret also had a long run of 28 years until closing its doors. It has been a remarkable run for an even more remarkable family.

Charles A. Gray, is an American patriot, veteran of WWII and retired successful entrepreneur in the community. He continued to serve after active military duty in the Air Force reserve and retired as a Major. Charles and Marcille are truly  exemplary members of our country’s “Greatest Generation.” Thank you for your service and contributions to the community, state and nation.