DERRY — "We Marines always like to plan for the future. I knew I wanted to be buried in a dress blue uniform. I have plenty of suits and that kind of thing. But I wanted to use the highest card in my deck."
Samuel Gray of Derry spoke those words almost two years ago, while battling stage 4 lung cancer and hoping he could find a Marine uniform to serve as the last suit he'd ever wear.
He got to play that highest card in his deck, thanks to the generosity of Londonderry High School graduate and Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Boles, who was stationed in North Carolina and flew to New Hampshire in November 2011 to personally deliver the uniform and a box full of Marine Corps items.
Gray was wearing his uniform when he was buried after dying on July 4, said his daughter, Jennifer Gray Byrne. Byrne and her siblings, Heather and Michael, have established what they hope will be an annual softball game in their father's honor to benefit the Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire, which provides advocates for abused or neglected children in the court system.
That Gray died on Independence Day was not lost on his daughter. She said it was his favorite holiday and was the time where his entire family would gather at his house on Beaver Lake and hear him sing, "Proud To Be An American."
"It was my father's last stubborn move in life," she said.
Byrne said nurses told the family the week of July 1 that her father could die at any time, but that he was alert and could understand them. She said they kept letting him know of the time and day. Then came 6:50 a.m. on July 4.
"One of the last things I said to my dad, and his eyes were open, was 'It's OK. You can go. It's the Fourth of July.'"
He died minutes later, she said.
Two years ago, Gray didn't mince words when describing how he wanted his funeral to proceed."To put it bluntly, I wanted Marines to carry my ass out of here."He got that wish too, as Boles and other Marines were his pallbearers, Byrne said.
Byrne said a family friend mentioned that an event should be organized in Gray's honor to benefit CASA, which she said was his favorite charity. A 5k run was mentioned, but "my father didn't run. He didn't enjoy running. He ran when he was in the Marine Corps, but only because he had to."
But Gray loved softball, so the first Sam Gray Memorial Softball Tournament will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Don Ball Field. This year's tournament features two teams, but the family hopes the tournament will grow in popularity. The family is covering all expenses, so any money raised at the tournament will go to CASA, she said.
"We wanted to honor him and raise money in a way he would have loved," she said. "It's just something that would have been near and dear to him."