Mullins Vietnam War veteran finds solace in volunteering to help others
MULLINS, S.C. – Charles Gray has lived in Mullins for 60 years. The 69-year old former Army Infantryman remains busy after an extensive work history by dedicating his time volunteering to help his community and fellow veterans.
“I was drafted in May 27, 1970,” Gray remembers. “I did basic training and AIT (advanced individual training) at Fort Jackson. Got a 13-day leave, then went to Vietnam. I stayed in Vietnam for a year. The best part was coming home.”
Gray was able to return to civilian life early.
“Being overseas wasn’t bad; just the environment was sort of bad,” he said. “We stayed out in the field for 79 days. It was a good experience. I wouldn’t trade it for nothing. I hold my head up and feel proud that I served my time in the military.”
Gray said he was happy when informed that he had been drafted.
“I said I was going to do it for my country, and it didn’t hurt one bit,” he said. “Knowing I served my country makes me very proud.”
Gray doesn’t talk about his experience much. More than 50 years after the Vietnam War, he said, times have changed in regard to recognition of Vietnam War veterans.
“When we first came back, people didn’t recognize you,” he said. “I really wouldn’t even tell people that I had been to Vietnam.
“Now I do. It’s changed from the time I left to now. People recognize Vietnam veterans and seem to appreciate them a lot better.”
Gray returned to working at AVM Industries for more than 13 years, and he went on to SLI Lighting until it closed. Then he moved on to help his wife’s uncle as an electrician.
Gray is the father of two children, and he said he’s proud of his four grandchildren.
“Since I’ve been home from Vietnam, my family has been a lot of help to me,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for my family showing me love and me showing them love, it would’ve been rough without them. My family has really helped me come through a lot that I normally wouldn’t have been able to do without them.”
Gray’s main hobbies include fishing and gardening, but he spends a lot of time volunteering to help others. He serves as the commander of the Mullins Chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6122 and also adjutant for Mullins American Legion Post 89.
“I’ve been with the VFW for about 25 years and 20 years with American Legion,” he said. “We try to help the community and support Palmetto Boys State. We sponsor a baseball team and help Mullins High School’s JROTC. I love it.”
Gray said the organizations support veterans and provide a resource to help them receive their benefits. His thoughts on Veterans Day include appreciating the moment.
“It’s a celebration,” Gray said. “To know of all of the veterans, we need to thank them for their service. It’s just a good day of the year.”
Gray said the VFW is all about helping veterans. It meets on the second Thursday of the month.
“It’s just a good group of guys to get together and socialize,” he said. “It means a lot to help a veteran. It makes me feel good and helps me overcome what I’ve went through in Vietnam. If I wasn’t in the military and the VFW, I would’ve never met these good guys. It’s a good organization to be in, because we’re like brothers.”
Gray and the VFW organize several fundraisers during the year. He also helps with fundraisers for his Mullins Church of God congregation and city events.
“I love to do things for people. I think it’s one of my callings to help people,” he said. Gray recently steamed oysters during the Let’s Cruise Main Street Cruise, Shuck & Shaq event.
“If they ask me to help in town, I’m willing to do it,” he said.
Mullins Mayor William “Bo” McMillan said he’s proud to call a “great patriot” his friend.
“It’s a rare opportunity for me to talk about someone who means so much to me personally, also to this country and also to the city of Mullins,” McMillan said. “Charles Gray is a sterling example of selfless service to others and seeks nothing in return. What Charles Gray does is what all of us should do. He seeks to serve others with no compensation in any form expected.”
McMillan said Gray is the type who will help anybody, and he plays an active role in the community.
For more information about the Mullins VFW, call 843-289-4089.