Hero wary of glamour for actions

6 Feb 2001 | Sgt. Andrew D. Pomykal

Webster's dictionary defines a hero as an illustrious warrior; a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities.

Marine Corps history is littered with personalities that have gone "above and beyond the call of duty." Thousands of citations have been written extolling the conspicuous gallantry and bravery of Marines.

Warriors such as Smedley Butler, Lewis (Chesty) Puller and Eddie Ray.
Eddie Ray? Who is he?

Lieutenant Colonel Eddie Stephen Ray is one of two Marines awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism during Desert Storm.

Ray was born April 25, 1954 in Los Angeles. He left economic studies and the football team at the University of Washington to enlist in the Marine Corps July 27, 1977.

Having a mind for numbers, he accepted a combat-arms bonus and served as an artilleryman stationed at Twentynine Palms, Calif. At night, he furthered his studies and eventually graduated from Chapman University with a Bachelor's Degree in Economics.

Ray was honorably discharged in 1981.

Much to his surprise, an officer-selection officer approached Ray on the job one day in Seattle. He accepted a commission in 1983 and attended The Basic School. From there he completed a tour at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island as a series officer, series commander and Weapons Training Battalion commander. Ray returned to Twentynine Palms as a company commander with 3rd Light Armored Infantry.

"It was Colonel [Robert G.] Nunnally's [the commanding officer of WTBn] suggestion. I said, 'Sure. Why not?' LAI was relatively new," he said. "We were learning about the vehicles, what they could do and how to effectively employ them."

He received a first-hand opportunity to field the vehicles in battle during Desert Shield/ Desert Storm. His unit was deployed to Southwest Asia with the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in 1990, and positioned on the "screen line" north of Al Jubayle in northern Saudi Arabia.

"We were the first line of defense...the early warning system for Task Force Shepard," Ray explained.

It was there that Maj. Gen. Jerry D. Humble and Lt. Col. James T. Cole, the Division Operations Officer, called upon Ray's artillery background.

From his forward position, Ray provided essential target information for a combined-arms-offensive raid against Iraqi strong points.

On February 25, 1991, his company was requested to fall back to the 1st First Marine Division Forward Command Post to provide security. The CP was located near an irrigated, wooded area located in southeastern Kuwait near the Burgan Oil Fields.

The Iraqi invasion forces had set the oil wells ablaze, and the dense, black smoke choked out the sunlight and made maneuvering at night difficult.

"It was dark when we set in, and I spent most of the night walking up and down the line making sure everyone was oriented properly," said Ray.

"I finally drifted off to sleep and was awakened maybe a couple of hours later to the sound of artillery impacts in front of and behind our position," he added. "I also heard the 50 Cal (.50 caliber machine gun) on the line to my left when it started firing into the tree line."

Ray mounted his vehicle and sped to the gun emplacement to investigate.

"I was already mad. I was mad 'cause I had to be there. Mad 'cause I was awakened and mad 'cause there was somebody shootin' and I didn't know if they knew what they were shootin' at; and I was concerned that someone friendly would get hurt," Ray said.

"Then, I saw a hummer (HUMMWV) driving through the trees towards the CP and I wondered what they were doing out there."

When the driver neared, he reported enemy vehicles approaching and that they had discovered a building cached full of weapons, food and equipment. Ray ordered the gun to displace, looked and saw the building about 150 meters into the trees. As he peered out through the darkness, another vehicle appeared from behind the building and fired on the machinegun position and beyond towards the division command post. 

He hesitated before orientating his gunner on the target. He was wary of firing on an unidentified vehicle.

"When it turned, I saw the suspension and realized it (the vehicle) wasn't friendly," said Ray.

Once he was positive that it was an enemy vehicle (a Russian-manufactured armored personnel carrier), he gave the order to fire.

"BMP, direct front," he provided the target direction to his gunner.
His gunner replied, "Got it, sir."

"Fire." Ray ordered.

The gunner sent three rounds into the vehicle and it started to smoke.
Another BMP appeared and fired shots at Ray's vehicle. With an instinctive decision, Ray told his driver to reverse direction quickly.

"Back up 150 meters now!"

The rounds fell short of Ray's vehicle, but landed in the vicinity of their original position.

"We were lucky there," said Ray.

He and his gunner quickly returned fire on the BMP.
Ray noticed that troops had exited from the rear of the vehicle and were taking positions in a ditch inside the woods.

He hastily repositioned the other Light Armored Vehicles in his company on line to his right and left and authorized them to engage targets as they appeared.
"I had a mental picture where everyone was. If one vehicle reported a target to his front, I would know where the enemy was," said Ray.

"The BMPs would start to smoke. First, white, then gray and then green. That was an indicator that they were about to explode."

He added, "We would fire a few rounds into a vehicle. It would begin to smoke, then we'd fire at another vehicle and a few minutes later the first vehicle would explode.

"The explosions caused all the hatches to fly off and the crewmembers would be thrown out."

Six enemy vehicles were rendered useless by that point.

During the firefight, Ray recalled, "My thinking crystallized. I was making sure I was one step ahead of the a football coach calling plays on the field. Fear wasn't a distraction...low ammo wasn't a distraction."
In anticipation of further attacks, Ray scouted the terrain area south and west of the CP.

"We needed to reload our weapons and I needed to survey the area and see if anyone was out there," he said.

While patrolling, he happened on several Marine logistics vehicles staged west of the CP and advised them to relocate further north, closer to the main body of Task Force Shepard.

He also discovered a Marine battalion of tanks on line situated south of the CP. He alerted the unit commander that his company was in their line of advance.
More enemy vehicles had reportedly approached the CP and Ray rapidly joined his team in the fray.

When Ray called for air support, it was initially denied as a low priority. Maj. Gen. Jerry Humble overheard the radio traffic and keyed the mike to broadcast the sounds of the firefight to Lt. Gen. Emil R. Bedard in an attempt to persuade the support order. Bedard diverted AH-1W attack helicopters (Cobras) and they flew to the scene to help destroy the enemy vehicles.

Ray recounted that the Cobras left to reload and returned 10 minutes later. He positioned them low in the air over his shoulders. With two helicopter escorts hovering over him, Ray proceeded forward with four of his vehicles. Together, they moved east through the trees. On the other side of the woods, they spied a column of enemy vehicles approaching from the direction of the oil field. The combined arms force engaged them when the two leading vehicles moved to assume attack formation.

After sweeping through the much larger force, scouts rounded up more than 250 Iraqi soldiers, and Ray ordered medical attention be provided for those who required it.

Ray guessed that he encountered 25-30 vehicles that night.
"Recon swept the area the next day and reported 50 vehicles destroyed," Ray said.

Ray said he motivated his Marines by borrowing inspiration from pre-game locker room speeches of football coaching greats, such as Vince Lombardi and Ara Parsegian.

"I'd read aloud particular passages regarding self-sacrifice, team-building concepts and humility," Ray said.

"I keep the perspective that my actions were ordinary," he said modestly of his battlefield tactics. "It could have been anyone else out there. Somebody else could have done it better. I'm just lucky to have benefited from experience."
Ray added, "I have a compelling desire to serve. Throughout history, societies always have had an element to protect them. The military serves as the protectors. I'm a protector. It's as simple as that."