Roanoke, VA - Hero from the Heart of Virginia and Korean War veteran, Robert Gray, was a prisoner of war for three years. He says his early struggles paved the way for what he considers a blessed life.
"Some people would say that had some rough times, but then had I not had rough times would I have known what good times are when I found them. So I can't complain," Gray said.
When you ask a man a question about how good life has been, knowing that he was a POW in a Chinese prison camp for three years and knowing that all around him hundreds of his fellow soldiers died slow deaths from hunger and exposure, and he says "life's been fairly good to me," it really makes you realize just how small your problems really are.
Gray still lives with his. Some days he can walk, some days he can't. Frostbite is a lifelong reminder of the war. It's a problem that started when he was just 17, stationed in occupied Japan.
Gray's unit was part of the first group of Americans to go to Korea trying to stop the communists.
"To be honest about it, we were poorly trained, not very well equipped and the leadership wasn't the best in the world," Gray said.
The Americans, nearly pushed off the peninsula, counterattacked and drove all the way to the border with China, a fighting spirit that started with a pep talk that would soon turn into hollow words.
"They said, 'A few high spirited young kids, with a few obsolete weapons and as soon as they see us Americans, they'll run.' And they did... right over the top of us."
And for the next 34 months, Gray struggled to survive with thousands of his fellow Americans at this forced labor camp, many would die.
"There's a lot of young guys that never got to live the lives out. They died very, very young. Most cases not even knowing where they were at," Gray said.
The experience made Gray who he is today, a man that fights for veteran's rights.
After seeing his comrades in such deplorable conditions during war, he is dedicated to do his part to assure vets their rights due.
"It's given me a much different outlook on life. People and what needs to be done, what could be done."
"I spend a lot of time at being with them, talking with them just being there. Trying to find ways to help better their situation."
"If it wasn't for the sacrifice of veterans, neither of us would be sitting here."
Robert Gray spends every Sunday at the Virginia Veteran's home. A few years ago, he headed the fundraising effort that helped the Veteran's home purchase a special bus for disabled veterans.