Honoring a fallen classmate

At Saturday night vigil, Bill Greene and Carolyn Woods, Loganville High School classmates of Maj. David Gray, wait to address a crowd assembled to honor the fallen soldier, who was killed last week in Afghanistan.

LOGANVILLE — While emotions ran high at a vigil Saturday for Maj. David Gray, the family has announced there will be a memorial service beginning at 6 p.m. Aug. 21 at Loganville First Baptist Church. He will be buried Aug. 24 in Arlington National Cemetery.

There was a somber atmosphere in the air of the vigil as the graduating class of 1992 from Loganville High School gathered to remember and reflect on the life of Maj. David Gray, who lost his life last week while serving in Afghanistan. Gray, 38, leaves behind three children Nyah, 8, Garrett, 5 and Ava, 4 along with his wife, Heather.

Holding back tears at the vigil honoring his son, James Gray expressed how grateful he was for the support the community had been offering.

“I am so overwhelmed. People have been calling and asking what they can do. It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” the proud father said. “David was an outstanding person and a loving father. He was always smiling, friends with everybody and wouldn’t hesitate to help anyone.”

Classmates, family, friends and strangers sat in the bleachers of the Loganville Middle School baseball field as a prayer was offered, moment of silence and then a donation period for flower arrangements and a trust fund for Gray’s three children.

Originally the candlelight vigil started out as a few classmates wanting to help and quickly grew with the help of social media outlets. Classmate Carolyn Woods started a Facebook page about the event, which she said more than 300 people responded to with comments and arrangements to be present for the vigil.

“Once we heard David had passed we wanted to represent our class of 1992 and send flowers to the family’s service in Georgia, the service in Arlington and the service in Colorado,” Woods said. “Every where he went he lit up the room. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for us. It’s just a huge blessing to see everyone come out and support.”

Walnut Grove football coach O.J. Soto reflected on his first few days of high school after a move from New York.

“We hit it off a few days into going to school here,” Soto said. “David’s glass was always half full and he loved his life.”

Soto said that Gray and him remained close during high school while playing football together and even after graduation.

“I was in his wedding,” Soto said. “I was telling my wife on the way here we always felt like we graduated and came back here to have jobs while he was being Superman, facing danger and battling evil.”

Soto said Gray spoke with him on different occasions about how, when he was out of the army, he wanted to teach and coach by his side.

“Now it’s about moving forward, what is best for Heather and the three children and what’s next for them,” he said.

Classmates weren’t the only in attendance for the vigil as Loganville High School athletics director Tommy Stringer was present to pay his respects.

“David played three years of football for us. He was a great kid,” Stringer said. “He worked hard, loved the weight room and was a team guy.”

Stringer said even back then it was apparent that Gray was a born leader.

“He was one of those guys that came to work everyday,” he said.

When Stringer first heard the news of Gray’s death, he was beside himself.

“I couldn’t believe it. I thought we were on the down side and in a friendly atmosphere over there,” he said. “It makes you wonder why these things have to happen,”

Stringers sentiments of Gray echoed in several of his classmates and even parents of his classmates that attended Saturday.

“He and the boys played ball together,” Glenn Franklin said. “They were good decent boys. If the country had more boys like them the country wouldn’t be in this shape. David was true to the bone. It just broke my heart to hear the news.”

Preacher and classmate Bill Greene spoke a few words before the offering was made for Gray’s family.

“David lived every day like it was his last on earth,” he said. “I want to be more like David and be ready at all times. He was one of the best men I have ever known my whole life. When he signed up for the Army, he was willing to give it his all and I will never forget him as long as I live. He loved his God, he loved his country, he loved his family and he loved each one of us.”

Today would have been Gray’s 39th birthday. Five Spot Yogurt in Grayson will take 20 percent of all sales from 4 to 8 p.m. and donate them to a fund set up for his family.

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