Marine General Al Gray (4)

At about 1400 (2:00 p.m.) on 29 April 1975, the Marines finally evacuated the two men, Bob and Gary, who had agreed to stay with me to the end as Saigon fell. Unlike the period of preparation, when the Marines flew to Saigon in mufti and on civilian helicopters, now they were in full uniform and came in on Marine choppers. But they also enlisted Air America, a civilian corporation operating in South Vietnam, in the evacuation. The company used little Hueys, the slicks, Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, for transporting their employees around the country.

As night fell, rains started. I pleaded with Al Gray to delay my departure until I got confirmation that Bob and Gary were safe on a ship of the 7th Fleet, but he was having none of that, and in words I can’t repeat, told me to get on that helicopter now. I did as I was told. I carried with me the .38 revolver I’d slept with on a cot, first in my office, later in the comms center when everyone but Bob, Gary, and me was gone. And under my arms were the two flags that had stood on both sides of my desk, the stars and stripes and the gold and orange banner of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

For some reason, Al put me on one of the slicks. No sooner were we airborne than I saw tracers coming at us. We took so much lead in the fuselage that I thought we were going down. But we made it. When we were “feet wet”—over water—the pilot immediately dropped us down to just above the ocean. My stomach felt like it had stayed high above us.

After we landed on the Oklahoma City, the flagship of the 7th Fleet, in the pitch black and pouring rain, sailors relieved me of my .38, but I wouldn’t give them the flags. Today those flags are in the Cryptologic Museum at Fort Meade, Maryland.

I was in terrible physical shape. I’d done without food or sleep for days. When I got back to the states, I was diagnosed with amoebic dysentery and pneumonia due to sleep, deprivation, inadequate diet, and muscle fatigue. It took some months for me to recuperate.

But I did recuperate. That was 43 years ago. During those years, I published four books, 17 short stories, and various nonfiction articles. I lived to see my children grow up, marry, and have children of their own.

I owe Al Gray those 43 years. If it hadn’t been for him and his Marines, I’d have died in Saigon. How do you say thank you for a gift like that?

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