All the Way with Miss Gray
Patriotism and a Passion for Music
As we celebrate Independence Day on July 4, Spectrum Generations thanks all the men and women who have or are currently serving in the armed forces to protect our freedom and liberty. We hope you are as inspired as we are by this story about a Veteran, Spectrum Generations volunteer and strong advocate for older and disabled adults.
On September 10, 1944, Marion Gray did what many other women were merely thinking – she enlisted in the WAVES. Marion, a graduate of Framingham High School, Massachusetts, decided to join the WAVES following 2 years of study at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. For women, enlisting in the Navy was a rigorous process that required the permission of one’s parent(s), completing an application, an interview, and a full background check. A petite young woman, Marion was first disqualified for service due to her height. Later, her “papers” would be waived, and by December 1944, she was on her way to boot camp at Hunter College in the Bronx. “It was about patriotism,” recalls Miss Gray. “This was evident in the lives of all men called to war. It also brought forth thousands of women who felt that same fervor.”
Commissioned as a U.S. Naval Training Center in 1943, New York’s Hunter College was the basic training site for more than 80,000 women until it closed in 1946. Approximately 2,000 recruits, such as Marion, arrived every 2 weeks to attend 6 weeks of boot camp. “What I remember most is the marching, wintry weather, inspections, and tight shoes,” notes Marion. The restrictions of liberty were also drilled into the women. They were not allowed near bars or taverns, which was often challenging in New York City. “I was scared to death to be near a bar,” reminisces Miss Gray, “and had a devil’s own time finding a good restaurant where there wasn’t one!”
After successfully completing boot camp, most recruits went on to train in such areas as secretarial service, storekeeping (accounting/bookkeeping), or radio coding/transmission. Already skilled at shorthand and typing, Miss Gray was sent to Oklahoma A&M in Stillwater for 3 months of yeoman training. To get there, she and her fellow WAVES, traveled covertly by train in what they called a “cattle car” up through Canada and then south to Oklahoma. The secrecy of the trip and its awkward route still remain a mystery to Miss Gray. Once at A&M, the WAVES endured more rigorous studying, tests, and marching.
By March 1945, now Yeoman Gray was back living at Hunter College and working at Eastern Sea Frontier in the highly specialized field of coding. Later, thanks to “two very special officers,” as noted by Marion, she was transferred to provide clerical duties and present a service of music to meet the worshiping needs of personnel at Hunter College. It was there that she conducted choirs and performed on a 4-manual Alan Organ. Later, Yeoman Gray would transfer to the Naval Liaison Office on Entertainment where shows were organized and sent to various bases overseas. While stationed in New York, Yeoman Gray experienced the excitement of VE Day (May 8, 1945) and VJ Day (August 14, 1945) in Times Square. She also stood proudly at attention during the ticker tape parade honoring then General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In May 1946, Yeoman 3rd Class Marion Gray mustered out of the WAVES. Through the GI Bill, she was able to attend Westminster Choir College. This led to an exciting, fulfilling career in music and teaching. Marion became Minister of Music at the Calvary Methodist Church in the Bronx. During that time, she was invited to live with a family, who came to love her as one of their own. Later, Miss Gray joined the Monroe-Woodbury School System where she taught for 22 years. In 1974, Miss Gray was named the school’s first “Teacher of the Year.” Following a brief retirement, she taught at Medomak Valley High School in Maine.
Although petite, Marion has commanded choirs (large and small), performing and conducting in New York City, Boston, Montreal, Washington, D.C., and throughout the state of Maine. She founded the Down East Singers of mid-coast Maine in 1979. It was there that one of the members coined the slogan, “All the Way with Miss Gray.” Although Marion retired from the Down East Singers in 1991, this amazing Rockland tradition continues to this day.
A 2005 DownEast Magazine story featured a story about Marion at the Rockland Congregational Church conducting a volunteer choir in a sing-along that included Handel’s Messiah. In the article, Miss Gray is quoted, “This is not a performance…We’re doing it for the experience of just loving the music.” Currently Marion is a Minister of Music at Ridge Baptist Church in Tenants Harbor (for over 20 years), and an organist at Finnish Congregational Church in South Thomaston since 2001.
As a veteran and volunteer, Marion served as Commander and Adjutant of the American Legion, Post #34 and was active in WAVES National. She attended the groundbreaking for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and the World War II Veterans Memorial. A strong advocate for older adults and a Spectrum Generations volunteer, Miss Gray served as Chair of the Local Advisory Council in Knox County and helped establish Spectrum Generations Knox Community Center in Rockland.
Mostly retired now, Miss Gray remains modest about her accomplishments as a teacher, choir conductor, musician, and volunteer. Of her service, she notes, “When WAVES like me came into the picture, it started an already begun trend for an area in which women achieved extensively. I was PROUD then, and I am PROUD now that this experience opened up the great world beyond my hometown. Today, my WAVES Unit #41, and all the units with whom I come in contact, still feel that we were SOMETHING SPECIAL. In fact, it is the WAVE motto. The service bar I wear on my uniform for having served as a WAVE is very meaningful. I cherish that part of my life and will continue to sing of the patriotism, which helped make this country what is. I’m glad for all the things that helped to make me the person sitting here today.”