Marine General Al Gray (3)

As the fall of Saigon got closer and the 7th Fleet cruised in the South China Sea in preparation for the evacuation of Americans and some Vietnamese from the city, the Ambassador was doing everything he could to hamper the effort. He wouldn’t allow Al Gray and his Marines to dress in uniform, fly their own helicopters into the country, or stay overnight. So Al and his troops, in civilian clothes, had to fly in and out each day from the 7th Fleet via Air America slicks, the little Hueys, the UH-1 choppers that could only carry eight to fourteen people. Al’s form of protest was that wild outfit he was wearing—an outrageous Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and shower shoes.

It didn’t matter. Ambassador or no Ambassador, the Marines had landed. They’d carry out for the evacuation the instant it was ordered.

The next time I saw Al, he was in full uniform. This time he’d flown in from the 7th Fleet on a Marine helicopter. The pretense was over. Saigon was falling.

Before that, around four in the morning on 29 April, we received a message telling us that Frequent Wind Phase Four had been declared. The was the codename for the evacuation.

I telephoned the embassy. “The evacuation has been declared,” I said. “Get us out of here!” The lady I talked to was polite, even gracious. She explained to me, as one does to child, that the embassy could do nothing for us—we were too far away, and, although I probably didn’t know it, the people in the streets were rioting. Of course I knew it; I could see them. I uttered an unprintable curse. She responded, “You’re welcome.”

When the Marines from the 7th Fleet landed, I tracked down Al Gray and asked if he could fit us in with his guys when he pulled out. He reassured me he would.

More tomorrow.

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