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A full-circle story: lost B.B. Comer class ring on D-Day returns to its original owner

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Special contribution to SylacaugaNews.com from Robert Sprayberry, color commentator on The Tiger Sports Network on KiX 100.3.

On June 6, 1944, my father Grady Sprayberry, just a few months shy of his 21st birthday, was one among many thousand allied soldiers about to land on the Normandy beachhead in France. That day several things happened to him that most people would consider pretty amazing, but one would not come to a conclusion until two years after the end of WWII.

My father was with the 6th Armored Cavalry, 467th AAA Battalion (self-propelled), attached to the 29th Infantry Division, landing on Omaha Beach. As the LCT (Landing Craft Tank) he was on approached the beach, it was struck by heavy artillery fire from the German shore batteries all along the beachhead. The landing craft was hit and sinking.

My father and all the others of his outfit, including their battery commander Lt. Dotsch, abandoned ship into the cold waters of the English Channel.

They did not remain in the water very long. A U.S. Navy Destroyer escort came alongside, lowered a net ladder, and rescued the men.

When it was his turn to be rescued, my father climbed up the already drenched ladder. As he got close to the deck, a sailor’s hand reached down to help him onto the ship. After gathering his senses, he looked up, and recognized the sailor — one of this friends from Mill Village in Sylacauga.

The young sailor asked my father, “Grady, what are you doing here?”

Dad replied, “Getting my tail shot off.”

While they were talking, dad realized that in the haste and confusion of the action, he had lost his B.B. Comer High School ring in the vastness of the English Channel.

The destroyer took the men back to England where they were re-equipped. Dad knew that because he was not with his unit on the beaches, and was not killed in action, he would be listed as MIA, or Missing in Action, with an official telegram going to my mother delivering the news.

He was wise and sent a telegram of his own which arrived within a day of the official Army telegram. It stated “I’m not missing in action, just missing you.”

After returning to France, dad and his outfit were to travel over most of the country, Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Germany. They frequented cities like Avranches, Liege, St. Lo, Maastricht, Aachen, and Remagen until the war ended.

Upon conclusion of the war, my dad resumed working at Avondale Mills, and all thoughts about the war — and his lost ring — were forgotten.

That was at least until another strange occurrence changed the course of history.

One morning in 1947, my father was at the Coffee Pot Café in Sylacauga going about his usual routine of meeting up with friends for coffee and a lot of talk. During breakfast, one of dad’s friends told him that he and his wife had been at The Ritz Theater in Sylacauga the night before. While at the theater, he had noticed an African American custodian with a B.B. Comer class ring that looked similar to my father’s. Being that this was during the time of segregation, it seemed unlikely this would even be possible.

My father told his friend that his story was impossible and that he had lost his ring in the English Channel off of the Normandy coast several years prior during the war. Dad’s friend didn’t buy it. He persisted until my dad relented and decided to go down to the theater and find the custodian.

Dad went to the theater and located the custodian wearing the B.B. Comer ring.

“Do you mind if I take a look at your ring,” said dad.

The custodian said he didn’t mind and took the ring off and handed it to my dad. To my dad’s amazement, inside the ring was the inscription “Grady Sprayberry.”

“How on earth did you get this?” dad asked with amazement.

“During the war, I was in the Quartermaster Corps, and I won it in a poker game with another soldier that had picked it up off of Omaha Beach,” said the custodian.

Two weeks after the initial landings at Normandy, a strong storm near hurricane force struck the French coast — strong enough to stir up the sea floor and wash the ring on shore.

“How much money did you put up for the ring,” dad asked.

“Twenty dollars,” the custodian answered.

Right then and there, dad asked the custodian if he would take $20 for the ring. Needless to say, the story of the ring came full-circle.

My father kept the ring until he passed away in January 1997, and I, his son Robert, still have the ring.


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