There has been a lot of life lived in his 95 years. Charlotte resident Clyde Ray still remembers all of them. His face lights up when he talks about his wife, Violet, who played the starring role in most of them.
There are other stories he tells — his time spent overseas serving in the United States Army during World War II — though they don’t seem as important to him. Those moments, in his mind, were only a small part of his life.
They were, however, important moments in our nation’s history. Ray celebrated his 95th birthday this past Thursday, Nov. 5, one of a few World War II veterans remaining in the local area.
Ray was in his mid 20s when he enlisted in the United States Army. An ROTC student at Michigan State University at the time, he recalls being told by his instructor that he had two options, enlist or go home and wait to be drafted. Nearly all in his ROTC unit, close to 40 as he recalls, walked across the street to enlist.
He spent a year in preparation at Ft. Riley, Kansas before heading to Europe. He didn’t leave, though, without making his girlfriend, Violet Nelson, a Charlotte area native and fellow MSU student, his bride.
Actually, as he recalls, it was her idea.
“We were coming home on the bus from Flint after a trip to see my brother while I was on leave, when she said ‘let’s get married,’” Ray said. “I told her I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea because I was heading out in three days. She was going to graduate in 10 days and start a teaching job. She told me she wanted to be known as Mrs. Ray not Ms. Nelson.”
The conversation took place on a Wednesday … the couple was married that next Friday.
Ray left for the war shortly after, joining the 23rd Infantry Division in Germany.
“I spent three months in Germany on the front lines,” Ray said. “I walked up to a little fire at our headquarters and I remember thinking my foot felt funny. I took off my boot and my foot swelled right up. They shipped me over to a hospital in England three days before the Battle of the Bulge.”
He had developed immersion foot, a painful condition that arose due to prolonged exposure to cold water on his feet. The doctor at the time told him he would always have problems with his feet. When he was able to return, he was grouped with the 355th Engineer Battalion until her returned home to Violet.
He finished his degree at MSU and started teaching Vocational Agriculture at Hanover Horton Public Schools. The superintendent at the time left to take a job with Lake Odessa Schools and just happened to need a Vocational Ag teacher and a home economics teacher, which was Violet was teaching at the time.
The two moved to the Lake Odessa area and taught for two years until an opening in Charlotte came about. Ray had wanted to move to Charlotte, knowing his bride would love to move close to her family. There he taught vocational ag for 28 years and Violet taught on and off for 20 years before the two retired on the same day in the mid 70s.
Violet passed away in 2006.
As Veteran’s Day approaches, like his birthday, Ray tends to see it as just another day. He thinks a little about his service and a lot about his lovely bride and the many years they were able to spend together.