James R. Gray, of Springfield, Ill., collects military memorabilia in honor of his father, Sgt. Warren Gray, formerly of Cassville, who served in World War II.
"I was born in 1958 and was a military memorabilia collector practically from birth," said James. "I guess maybe that's as close as I can get to my father, through those 203rd things."
Sgt. Warren Gray served five years with Headquarters Company of the 203rd Coastal Artillery, which was known as the Houn' Dawg Regiment of the Missouri Army National Guard.
In World War II, the entire National Guard was called into federal service and the 203rd was one of two Missouri battalions deployed as a unit. Other Missouri soldiers were separated from their Guard units, attached to active Army units and sent to various locations during the war.
During his military service, Warren worked as a radio operator. He was deployed with the 203rd to Amchitka, one of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.
The 203rd was sent to the Aleutians to guard against a suspected western attack on the continental United States by Japan, which landed in Alaska but failed to hold or gain ground further into the country.
"Dad never did make a big deal of his service," said James. "His part in the war was not as publicized as the European Theater. They just came home, tried to settle back into a normal life and didn't make a big splash about what they did.
"It was something he felt he had to do, and it took five years out of his life," said James. "Then he went on to become a productive citizen, husband and father."
Throughout his life, Warren collected T-shirts, hats and pins from reunions with fellow servicemen to give to his son.
Today, James collects equipment, clothing and other memorabilia pieces that feature the poised walker hound, Jim-Dawg, which was the mascot of the 203rd.
James' collection includes a World War II era Army Jeep with "203rd Headquarters" printed on the bumper and Warren's military service number printed on the hood. James displays the Jeep in World War II re-enactments and parades.
"Dad never was into my re-enactment and equipment display activities," said James. "He always said he got enough of that kind of thing while he was serving.
"During his last year, for the very first time, he rode with me in the Jeep during a Veterans' Day parade," said James. "I think he wanted to do something for me in that way. Even if he didn't think it was a big thing, he knew I did."
Sgt. Warren Gray died, at the age of 80, in April of 2002.