A reader who is herself a veteran thanked me for posting on Al Gray. She and I agree: at a time when our national leaders have become spectacularly self-serving, we do well to honor a Marine commander who always put the welfare of his troops ahead of his own: Al Gray.
So let me continue my discussion of Marine General Al Gray occasioned by his picture on the cover of the July 2018 Leatherneck:
In the spring of 1975, as the fall of Saigon loomed, I had moved from my villa after my wife and children were evacuated. I spent full time getting my staff of 43 guys and their families out of Saigon even though the U.S. Ambassador, Graham Martin, had forbidden me to evacuate them. I sent them out on phony vacations, fake business travel, and trumped-up home leave. By the last week of April, I was down to a handful of men. We were short on food, and sleep had become a luxury. North Vietnamese shelling got closer each day.
One day, I was on my cot I my office trying desperately to get much-needed rest when the door chime sounded. I took my .38 revolver to the door and looked out the peephole. Outside was a middle-aged American man with reddish hair. He wore the wildest Hawaiian shirt I had even seen—colors so bright they hurt my eyes—shorts, and flip-flops. This in a war zone. He gave me a round-handed wave and a silly grin. 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 avoided coming to Saigon. He hated bureaucracy, and his job was in the field with his troops.
I put aside the .38, and we went in my office and we talked. I told him everything I knew about the military situation, but he knew more than I did. What he didn’t know in detail was what was going on with the friendlies. I told him about the unruly, desperate crowds jamming the streets and now ten to fifteen people deep outside the perimeter fence of our compound and my worry that the fence might not hold. He explained to me that he’d been named the Ground Security Officer—the man in charge—for the evacuation of Saigon once it was ordered.