Guns America pays tribute to an American hero.
1LT Waverly Wray was born in 1919 and raised in the wooded hills around Batesville, Mississippi, perhaps a forty-five minute drive from where I sit typing these words. An expert woodsman steeped in fieldcraft from his youth, Wray was described by his commander, LTC Ben Vandervoort, thusly, â€œAs experienced and skilled as an Infantry soldier can get and still be alive.â€ At 250 pounds Wray was an intimidating specimen, yet he was also a committed Christian man of character. He fastidiously eschewed profanity and sent half of his Army paycheck home each month to help build a church in his hometown.
Immediately after jumping into Normandy with the 82d Airborne, 1LT Wray set out on a one-man reconnaissance at the behest of his Battalion Commander. Wrayâ€™s mission was to assess the state of German forces planning a counterattack against the weakly held American positions outside Ste.-Mere-Eglise. Wray struck out armed with his M1 rifle, a Colt 1911A1 .45, half a dozen grenades, and a silver-plated .38 revolver tucked into his jump boot. Hearing German voices on the other side of a French hedgerow, Wray burst through the brush and shouted, â€œHande Hoch!â€ Confronting him were eight German officers huddled around a radio.
For a pregnant moment, nobody moved. Then seven pairs of hands went up. The eighth German officer reached for his sidearm. 1LT Wray shot the man between the eyes with his M1.
A pair of German soldiers about 100 meters away opened up on Wray with MP40 submachine guns. 9mm bullets cut through his combat jacket and shot away one of his earlobes. All the while Wray methodically engaged each of the seven remaining Germans as they struggled to escape, reloading his M1 when it ran dry. Once he had killed all eight German officers he dropped into a nearby ditch, took careful aim, and killed the two distant Wehrmacht soldiers with the MP40â€™s.
Wray fought his way back to his company area to report what he had found, blood soaking his ventilated jump jacket. His first question was to ask where he could replenish his supply of grenades. When American forces eventually took the field where Wray had waged his one-man war against the leadership of the 1st Battalion, 158th Grenadier Regiment, they found all ten German soldiers dead with a single round each to the head. Wray had completely decapitated the enemy battalionâ€™s leadership singlehandedly. Wray stopped what he was doing and saw to it that all ten German soldiers were properly buried. He had killed these men, and he felt a responsibility to bury them properly.
Waverly Wray survived the savage fighting in Normandy only to give his life for his country at Nijmegen, Holland, during Operation Market Garden later in the year. He has a granite marker in Shiloh Cemetery in Batesville, Mississippi, near the church he helped build. 1LT Wray was, by all accounts, an exceptionally good man who died six days before his twenty-fifth birthday.