World War II, 101st Airborne veteran Clayton Wray (left) with his son Clayton “Rob” Wray, shortly after Clayton returned from a North Country Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C.
It’s not often you get to meet a real life action hero, but that’s the best way to describe 90-year-old Clayton Wray. Just don’t try to tell him that.
Wray was one of the World War II veterans who attended the most recent Honor Flight to Washington D.C. He is also a Silver Star recipient for his service with the 501st parachute infantry regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Among his four campaigns in the European Theater, Wray was one of the famous “Battling Bastards of Bastogne,” a small contingent of American forces that held the tiny Belgian town of Bastogne against overwhelming German forces during the Battle of the Bulge. That battle may well have saved the war on the Western front.
“This was after we had just got back from Holland. We weren’t back two weeks when they broke through up in the Ardennes,” said Wray. “We were going up these logging roads (towards Bastogne), and we didn’t have nothing…didn’t have ammunition, we didn’t even have (winter) clothes.”
He tells of “stealing” ammunition and clothes from retreating American MPs they passed on those logging roads.
Wray was an Army medic. He was awarded the Silver Star for repeatedly putting himself in enemy fire to attend to wounded comrades in Bastogne, ultimately saving the lives of numerous soldiers.
“We had a job to do and we did it, and that’s all,” said Wray of the battle. “We had a job to do and we did it.”
When Wray was chosen to attend the Honor Flight, Wray’s son Clayton “Rob” Wray said Honor Flight director Dan Kaifetz secretly inquired of Rob’s sister if Clayton was planning to wear his Silver Star to Washington.
“She said ‘well he can’t, he put his Silver Star in my brother’s casket when my brother came back from Vietnam’,” Rob said.
Kaifetz immediately began to work behind the scenes to put things right and have his medal re-issued, but the military will not replace a Silver Star. It’s only issued once.
At the World War II Monument, Kaifietz called Wray out in front of the group of veterans. He read from his Silver Star citation, and explained why Wray wasn’t wearing his Silver Star. He then presented him with a medallion of recognition with a silver star on it to replace his Silver Star, and a pin for his hat.
Rob said that when his father returned at 11 p.m., after getting up at 4:30 a.m., he was still “jacked” by the presentation, and by the whole day in Washington.
“How can you go to sleep,” said Clayton, remembering the night he returned. “It was a wonderful experience. It was the most perfect day I’ve ever had with the military.”
He was quick to add, though, that he was up for 7:30 mass the next morning.
Wray will soon be returning to his home in Arizona, despising the cold of the North Country winter. With him he will bring the memories of that special day, as well as the long overdue appreciation of a grateful nation, which is what Honor Flight is all about.