May 23, 1938
From: Ruth (Barrell) Gray
To: Mrs Franklen D Roosevelt, Washington, D. C.
Dear Mrs Roosevelt:
As a mother to a mother, I am writing to you hoping you will listen sympathetically to
a brief account of a situation which threatens very shortly to disrupt several young lives.
There are seventeen midshipmen just completing their third year at the Naval
Academy who are facing discharge — at the end of this week, May 28th solely because of
eye defects brought on by intense studying of closely printed charts and mathematical
tables. A number of this group have been carried over from last year, while a smaller group
developed the defective vision in the last few months. My son Charles is one of the latter
All I am asking is an extension of a test period through the summer so that those
boys who have only had this trouble for a few months, and are fully qualified otherwise,
can have one more chance, which is a good one, I think, to restore their eyes to normal
while on cruise. If, when examined in September, their eyes still do not measure up to
requirements, they would at least feel they had their chance.
You can readily understand, Mrs Roosevelt, that when a boy has gone through
three years at Anapolis, has worked hard and passed in all his studies, has earnestly
“lived Navy,” and centered all hopes and energies on a naval career, such a short-warned
dismissal comes as a blow.
With my son Charles it would seem particularly unfortunate, since he is so keenly
interested in the navy and we well suited for it. Perhaps his most pronounced
characteristic, and a natural heritage, is a quiet but deep seated and even passionate love
of country; its physical aspects of woodland, plain, mountains and waterway, its history
and traditions. From early childhood he has read American history avidly in much greater
quantity that required for school. A great reader on a wide variety of subjects his fund of
general information is above average. In subjects pertaining to geography, history,
navigation and the natural sciences he does particularly well. His instructors at Anapolis
think highly of him. Most important perhaps, he has been given a high rating in aptitude for
the service, which is a fundamental.
Charles, who is next to youngest in my family, comes from a long line of ancestors
who served their country on land and sea from earliest colonial days, right down to the
present. Joseph Barrell, 1740 – 1804, with other prominent merchants of Boston fitted out
the vessels which heckled the British at sea during the Revolution; in effect the beginning
of our navy. Mr Barrel later fitted out the expedition to the Pacific coast, where Captain
Robert Gray discovered the Columbia River in 1792 — and continued across the Pacific
around the Cape of Good Hope, thence home again to Boston where he was received with
honor as the first to carry the American flag around the world.
Charles has relatives who have served in every war of our country, Lieutenant Col
Henry Wisner in the revolution, his great uncle Captain Robert Gray, who died on the field
of Antietam, and whose name is on the battle monument at West Point; and his uncle Col
Robert L Gray who served overseas in the world war.
I do not wish to ask any favor for my son, nor do I desire to have any lowering of the
physical standards. Only that my son, and the others of the group may have another
chance to qualify.
I still feel, Mrs Roosevelt, that there is hope, although the time is short. With your
interest, if I have stirred it, and your position, a word to the right person at once, would be
all that is necessary to grant this favor which is so small in one end and so large on the
other. Needless to say, we shall be everlastingly grateful.
Ruth Barrell Gray