Last Wednesday, I was invited to speak at a training session for the Marine Corps Cryptologic Battalion. Here are excerpts of what I said to them:
[Throughout my years in Vietnam,] I kept running into a guy names Al Gray. I first met him in the early 1960s when he was a Marine captain . . . The last time I saw Al in Vietnam was in late April 1975 [during the fall of Saigon]. By then he was a colonel and I a GS-15, still rank equivalent. Here’s the story:
[One night, toward the end,] I was on my cot trying in vain to get some much-needed rest when the door chime sounded. I took my .38, went to the door, and looked out the peephole. Outside, I saw middle-aged American man in the wildest Hawaiian shirt I’d ever seen, colors so bright they hurt my eyes, shorts, and flip-flops. This in a war zone. He gave me a round-fingered wave and a silly grin, and I recognized him. It was Al Gray. I’d never before seen Al out of uniform. I didn’t think he owned any civilian clothes. And I knew he never came to Saigon except when he absolutely had to. He hated bureaucracy and his job was in the field with his men.
[Al explained he was the Ground Security Officer for the evacuation.]
Just before sunset on 28 April, the bombardment started . . . our western gate was hit. Two of the Marines I had been talking to were killed. Their names were McMahon and Judge. They were the last two U.S. servicemen killed on the ground in Vietnam.
Washington finally countermanded the Ambassador and issued the evacuation order in the wee hours of the morning on 29 April. [Al Gray and] the Marines from the 7th Fleet immediately flew in and got us out.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit Al Gray with saving my life . . . I don’t call him Al any more. That stopped the day he became the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Now I call him “sir.” He’s the finest leader I’ve ever seen in action and a man I’m privileged to know.
So maybe you can understand why I have such respect for the Marines. Were it not for the Marines, I wouldn’t be alive today. So, Marines, I salute you and thank you for my life.