General Al Gray

I’ve written several times in this blog about U.S. Marine General Al Gray. I was reminded of him this week when I got an announcement that the second volume of his biography is now in print. I immediately ordered a copy. I’ll write here about the book after I’ve read it.

I liked Al when I first met him in Vietnam in the early 1960s. He was a captain back then, having spent time as an enlisted Marine before becoming an officer. As I trundled around Vietnam under cover supporting army and Marine units in combat, I kept running into Al.

It was Al, now a colonel, who rescued me during the fall of Saigon. When he arrived at my office door during preparations for the evacuation from Saigon, he and his Marines were under cover. He was in mufti—civilian clothes. I’d never before seen Al out of uniform. I didn’t think he owned any civilian clothes.

Over the years that followed, Al and I attended conferences together and spoke of our experiences in Vietnam. And it was he, by then a retired general, who spoke with me at my presentations on the fall of Saigon at the National Security Agency (NSA).

In Last of the Annamese, the Marine colonel who rescues the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, during the fall of Saigon, is named Macintosh. Several scenes in the book recount interactions that actually took place between me and Al Gray. But the character of Macintosh is not based on Al Gray. I made no attempt to portray Al, in all his humble majesty, in my fiction.

To wit: Al is a down-to-earth guy with no pretensions. He was so successful as a commander in combat because he is a Marine’s Marine, devoted equally to accomplishing the mission and taking care of the men and women he was responsible for. He never asked his subordinates to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He wasn’t their boss; he was their supporter. He was there to make them the best that they could be.

I’ve never met a Marine who doesn’t know who Al Gray is. He’s a hero to Marines, the epitome of everything a Marine should be. Many years ago, when I asked him why he never married, he told me that if the Corps had wanted him to have a wife, it would have issued him one. Late in his career, when it was proper to have a wife, he married.

The general was kind enough to keep in touch with me over the years. When I was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago, he got in touch with me to wish me he best of luck.

I don’t call him Al anymore. That stopped the day he became Commandant of the Marine Corps. Now I call him “sir.” He is the finest leader I have ever seen in action.

Most of us are not fortunate enough to meet a great man during our lifetime. I’m blessed. I worked with and got to know General Gray. Knowing him has been a privilege and an honor.

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