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Auburn veteran who died in 1997 gets name on Vietnam Memorial

Jim Gray’s name added 20 years after death at 48
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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Jim Gray, who lived the last decade of his life in Auburn before dying in 1997 at 48, served in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and was honorably discharged for medical reasons in 1971.

His widow, Betty Gray of Auburn, said that her husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of blood cancer, in 1974 and the couple tried for the next decade to convince the federal government that it was connected to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Agent Orange was a defoliant usually sprayed from a helicopter as part of an herbicidal warfare campaign in Vietnam. Eventually, the government did back off on its contention that the herbicide was safe but its use remains a contentious issue today.

“He always said he spent a year in hell,” Betty Gray said. “Like other veterans he didn’t talk about it but he did say they were spraying the fields all the time and he could smell it.”

On Saturday, at a ceremony on the grounds of the state Capitol in Sacramento, Betty Gray joined family and friends, the state Department of Veterans Affairs and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Honor Committee as Sgt. James Gray and 13 others had their names added to the memorial.

Betty Gray said her husband’s name would not have been inscribed if Gov. Jerry Brown had not signed Bill 287 in 2013, adding the names of Vietnam veterans who had died after the war from illness or injuries. Gray, a man who loved golfing, skiing, baseball, family, his 1965 Corvette and life, died after a second stroke.

There is a bench at Lloyd Beggs Field, a Little League park in Auburn, to remember his coaching and support of the sport. Another bench stands near where he is buried in Auburn Cemetery.

The ceremony Saturday provided the honor that “Jim” Gray hadn’t experienced when he returned from Vietnam during a time when veterans were receiving less than a hero’s welcome, Betty Gray said.

“The ceremony was amazing and done beautifully,” she said.

There are now more than 5,600 names on the memorial and 60,000 on the memorial in Washington, D.C.