Cove man keeps cousin's story alive with remote-controlled plane
By J.S. FREDERICK
The untold story of an unsung war hero, Robert Gray, is revitalized through Covite J.D Hardcastle’s remote controlled airplane. Taking flight this April 18th, the WWII two veteran's story will commemorate the Dolittle Raid's 74th anniversary, returning any onlookers to an era where time took the wings of military history into a bold unknown.
Hardcastle’s retelling of his cousin’s success abroad is primarily a humble origin story about family background and the classic prestige of iron will for the man for whom Fort Hood's airport is named.
“Col. Dolittle took scores of men like Robert Gray right out of high school, off the farms, and put them in war birds. He probably never had a clue how big of a mission he was facing.”
As history reveals, the Dolittle Raid was a swift response to the unprecedented attack on Pearl Harbor. Lead by the fearless Col. Dolittle, the mission ultimately pointed out that the Japanese skies were vulnerable, and gave the mainland hope that America could finish the fight.
Hardcastle could have chalked Gray off as a proud moment in family history, but even with the generational gap, Hardcastle saw the man in the soldier who was his cousin from home.
“There were times when he was training in the Fort Worth, Dallas area where Gray would fly his trainer home and land his jet in the family farm where he would then eat supper. If Gray couldn’t make a stop-by, he’d buzz the farm and everyone would come out and wave,” Hardcastle said. Surrounded by stories growing up, these were proud stories his aunt told Hardcastle of his cousin in the service. One of the most noticeable of these stories being that Gray’s father was mayor of Killeen for a short period of time.
Beaming with quiet satisfaction, Hardcastle displays an old family photo of Gray sitting in an aircraft after finishing flight school in 1941, driving home why Gray occupied so much of his time.
“Gray’s actions help revitalize how proud I am to be an American every day, and how his personality meshes with my own. We both love planes. We both went to Killeen High School and played football,” Hardcastle said. “The time period is different, but I can see me in him and my cousins.”
Hardcastle instinctively saw that children and adults of today not only need heroes to understand where they are coming from, but to find the hope in where they are going as a people and a country.
If the 21st century can be seen as an era of reflection, Hardcastle’s plane can be seen as both a symbol for the peace that could be, and a warning for the turmoil that once was. Nothing drives this message more to the forefront of the American mindset than in recent international events where Secretary of State John Kerry commemorates the Hiroshima event, symbolizing how Japanese-American relations are stronger than ever.
When asked what these recent events meant for his cousin’s legacy and Hardcastle’s message for the community, he stated, “Gray was there to do his part and do what he could and the best he could, and that’s the way I would’ve approached it too.” Implying that Gray was every inch a soldier, Hardcastle’s statement showed the personal courage of a soldier who understood his duty, while fighting to make sure our shores are safe back home.
At this point in time, Hardcastle feels that he is “...kind of at a standstill, and I’ve googled everything I could google. The last two years I’ve been like Pac Man, gobbling up information from families and friends who knew about him.”
But what is remarkable about Hardcastle’s own devotion to the truth regarding an often unheard chapter in military and American history is that Gray’s legacy is survived by his cousin’s actions.
Hardcastle touts that, “Practicing taking the runway at a certain distance, trying to get those jets up was no easy feat. But I’m sure he must have had a competitive streak, just like me.”
Perhaps what is even more beautiful about Gray’s story is where his story ends. In both the physical and spiritual sense, Hardcastle recalls that he has “...grandparents who are buried next to him. For Christmas, I put ivories and other flowers on his gravesite when I could. Sometimes I’ll pick the weeds, even though I don’t have to. Sometimes there would be red, white and blue flowers. I believe it championed the hometown effect Gray would have wanted to come home to.”
The Dolittle Raid may have been Robert Gray’s finest hour, but through the steadfast devotion and symbolic delivery by Hardcastle, anyone who learns about the soldier’s story will catch a personal glimpse into a man behind the uniform. A story of honor and courage which would otherwise be swallowed by the endless stride of history. Hardcastle talks about his cousin is not different from a very loyal brotherhood that transcends time.
Through Robert Gray, Hardcastle’s cousin is clearly a bridge to give back to the community. If you ever catch Hardcastle devoting his time to an event such as the Dolittle Raid Anniversary, you will see him in a T-Shirt designed with his cousin’s B-25 number, and a controlled plane entitled Whiskey Pete. And if you do get a chance to talk with him, maybe he will oblige you with a story or two about an unsung hero named Robert Gray.