The prestigious Navy Cross was awarded to Calhoun City, Mississippi’s Private Cecil Ray Tolley, United States Marine Corps Reserve, by the President of the United States for extraordinary gallantry and heroism while serving as a machine gunner with Company A, First Battalion, Twenty-Fourth Marines, Fourth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Tinian, Marianas Islands, 25 July 1944.
In addition to serving as a machine gunner, Private Cecil Ray Tolley also served as a cook. However, on the fateful night of 24 JUL 1944, his core training as a U.S. Marine Rifleman would be his distinguishing service characteristic. Private Trolley’s element had landed on the Tinian Island earlier in the day amid minor resistance. A large counterattack from the Japanese forces was expected, and in the darkness of the night hours, nearly 3000 enemy combatants descended upon the Marines’ positions in forceful waves of attacks.
Private Tolley’s Company A of 1st Battalion, 24th Marines faced approximately 600 enemy forces in their sector and were routed with casualties to the point were on 30 of their members remained. This reality of combat attrition occasioned services and support personnel to be pushed to the front lines to fill gaps in the line. Private Cecil Ray Tolley was one of these countless Marines who moved forward to frontline action as the Japanese forces’ counterattack ensued. During a furious hostile counterattack, enemy forces hurled hand grenades directly into the machine-gun position held by Private Tolley, causing private Talley and two other Marines to sustain grievous wounds.
Despite being painfully wounded and without the use of on oh his hand/arm extremities, Private Tolley courageously maintained combat focus, and even while physically compromised by his serious combat injury— willed his way to the machine-gun position, and with his non-injured hand—loaded the machine gun. Private Tolley then courageously commenced to firing four boxes of ammunition before losing consciousness due to the severity of his injuries.
By his exemplary display of selflessness, gallantry and intrepidity under the intense stress of combat, Private Tolley successfully eviscerated a significant amount of the advancing enemy forces that night — felling an estimated 476 bodies in front of his machine gun position—and greatly contributed to neutralizing a violent counterattack.
Private Tolley’s ceaseless devotion to duty under duress on that day are a testament to the highest traditions of valor and heroism that we hold dear within the annals of United States Military Service.
Cecil Ray Tolley survived the war and left the Marines shortly after his heroic service in combat. Cecil Ray Tolley passed away on 04 JAN 1987 at the age of 62, and he is buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery, Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.