LaPorte Legion commemorates 100th anniversary of the WWI death of namesake Hamon Gray

Lt. Hamon Gray

Display of Gray’s awards at the Legion.

Gray’s gravesite in Pine Lake Cemetery.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The biographical research and information on Hamon Gray were provided to the American Legion by La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz. 

WNLP story and photos by Bob Wellinski

Lt. Hamon Gray. His name and story are known by few, his name etched into a nondescript tombstone that marks his grave in Pine Lake Cemetery; Grave 4, Lot 208, in the North Dewberry Section. Although his tomb and name lie amongst hundreds of graves in Pine Lake Cemetery, there is a constant reminder of Lt. Gray, as his name is displayed on the American Legion Hamon Gray Post 83 sign, located at 228 E. Lincoln Way.

On July 22, 2018, a small group from the American Legion Post and community gathered at Gray’s burial site to honor this LaPorte World War I hero, the city’s first fatality in “the war to end all wars.” The memorial coincided with the 100-year anniversary of Lt. Gray’s death on July 20, 1918. (Word of his death would not reach LaPorte for more than a week.)

Members of American Legion Hamon Gray Post 83 also gathered at the post to rededicated their home in celebration of their upcoming 100th-year anniversary in September 2019. American Legion 3rd District Commander Wayne Zeman spoke of the war hero from LaPorte, whose only sibling, Corp. Stuart Gray, rests beside him.

Hamon Gray was born June 1, 1896, to Dr. Luscius and Orianna (Hamon) Gray. Dr. Luscius Gray died Oct 21, 1910, at the age of 50 from typhoid fever. Orianna reared and educated Hamon and Stuart. As conflicts broke out along the U.S.-Mexican border, Stuart Gray was stationed at the front while serving with the 32 Regiment of the Michigan Infantry. There he contracted dysentery at Ft. Bliss, Texas, and died Oct. 3, 1916.  

Hamon graduated from LaPorte High School in 1915. Zeman said Hamon’s military career was “a remarkable one considering his youth. He secured recognition early and seemed fated to be plunged into the conflict at the beginning, while thousands of other officers were many months in reaching the firing line and other thousands were still in America.” Hamon’s military career began in 1915 when he enlisted as a private in National Guard Company D, LaPorte. The company left LaPorte in June 1916 for Fort Harrison and then to the Mexican border for patrol duty. Hamon left as a corporal and came back in 1917 as a sergeant. He was accepted into the Officers Reserve Corps May 14, 1917, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in August 1917. He was one of 144 officers to go abroad to gain firsthand experience of the war.

Hamon had been in France for nearly a year at the time of his death. He was said to be the youngest officer at Ft. Harris to receive a commission. Zeman said Lt. Gray was made statistical officer at a large camp in France and placed in command of 50 men on the battle line. Later he was promoted to command a group of scouts. Lt Gray suffered gas poisoning, but didn’t want to go to the hospital until ordered to do so by the captain.

Acting as a regimental intelligence officer, Lt. Gray repeatedly carried important orders to the front line through heavy fire. On July 3, 1918, he marched ahead of the assaulting troops with four scouts and while observing the advance, he captured the first five prisoners taken that day in Vaux, France. Zeman said that while Hamon was being interviewed, he spoke of how easy it was to capture the German soldiers. Lt. Gray stated that as they rushed in, the five Germans climbed out of a hole and both Lt. Gray and the Germans shouted “Handehohe” (Hands up) simultaneously and they raised their hands. “That’s all there is to it,” Lt. Gray said.

In a letter published Feb. 13, 1918, in the LaPorte Weekly Herald, Lt. Gray was reported to have walked into a German dugout near Vierzy, France, with a grenade in one hand and a pistol in the other and wiped the dugout clean. On Aug. 7, 1918, a newspaper article reported that “the boy who single-handedly captured five Germans” was dead. He died July 20, 1918, of wounds received in action.

In January 1921, Lt. Hamon Gray’s body was returned to LaPorte and was taken from Cutler Brothers Chapel to the GAR Rooms of the courthouse, where it would lie in state. His funeral was held Sunday, Jan. 16, 1921, at the Presbyterian Church, with burial following in Pine Lake Cemetery.

Gray was awarded the Silver Star, Croix-de-Guerre with 2 Silver Stars (one for bravery), Croix-de-Guerre with Palm (the 2nd Infantry Division Award), Presidential Unit Citation, The French Fourragère, the Purple Heart, WWI Victory Medal with Silver Star, and Battle Clasps.

Zeman  said, “We are a 1919 post, which means we are one of the original American Legion Posts. We rededicate this post home this year in remembrance of Lt. Hamon Gray on the 100th anniversary of his death in defense of liberty.”

A proclamation from the City of LaPorte to the American Legion Post was also read.

The post received its temporary charter in September of 1919 and permanent chapter in August of 1920. From 1919 to 1951, the basement of the Bay Tree Inn on Michigan Avenue (across from the LaPorte YMCA) served at the post’s home until it moved to its current location in 1951. The post has survived a fire in the basement and flooding. And, Zeman said, it will continue to survive.

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