Bernard James Ray was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 9, 1921. He was serving as a First Lieutenant and rifle platoon leader in the United States Army‘s 4th Infantry Division when he gave his life in the service of freedom on November 17, 1944.
On that day during the Battle of Hürtgen Forest near Schevenhütte, Germany, Lieutenant Ray’s unit – Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment – was halted in their advance by a Nazi strong point and wire obstacles. Even though his comrades tried to stop him from taking on what seemed to be an impossible task, Ray advanced alone to clear the way with explosives.
The enemy recognized the threat to their position and concentrated intense fires on the young Lieutenant. After being severely wounded by a mortar shell explosion, Ray realized that unless he acted immediately, his mission to clear the path ahead would fail. With the detonating cord still wrapped around his body, he triggered the explosives.
*RAY, BERNARD J.
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company F, 8th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division. Place and date: Hurtgen Forest near Schevenhutte, Germany, 17 November 1944. Entered service at: Baldwin, N.Y. G.O. No.: 115, 8 December 1945
Citation: He was platoon leader with Company F, 8th Infantry, on 17 November 1944, during the drive through the Hurtgen Forest near Schevenhutte, Germany. The American forces attacked in wet, bitterly cold weather over rough, wooded terrain, meeting brutal resistance from positions spaced throughout the forest behind minefields and wire obstacles. Small arms, machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire caused heavy casualties in the ranks when Company F was halted by a concertina-type wire barrier. Under heavy fire, 1st Lt. Ray reorganized his men and prepared to blow a path through the entanglement, a task which appeared impossible of accomplishment and from which others tried to dissuade him. With implacable determination to clear the way, he placed explosive caps in his pockets, obtained several bangalore torpedoes, and then wrapped a length of highly explosive primer cord about his body. He dashed forward under direct fire, reached the barbed wire and prepared his demolition charge as mortar shells, which were being aimed at him alone, came steadily nearer his completely exposed position. He had placed a torpedo under the wire and was connecting it to a charge he carried when he was severely wounded by a bursting mortar shell. Apparently realizing that he would fail in his self-imposed mission unless he completed it in a few moments he made a supremely gallant decision. With the primer cord still wound about his body and the explosive caps in his pocket, he completed a hasty wiring system and unhesitatingly thrust down on the handle of the charger, destroying himself with the wire barricade in the resulting blast. By the deliberate sacrifice of his life, 1st Lt. Ray enabled his company to continue its attack, resumption of which was of positive significance in gaining the approaches to the Cologne Plain.
Lieutenant Ray was initially buried near where he fell. His remains were later repatriated to the United States, and he today rests in peace in the Long Island National Cemetery, Farmingdale, New York.