Marine General Al Gray

I’ve devoted a fair number of posts in this blog to Marine General Al Gray. He saved my life when Saigon fell. He has just come back into my life again, so it’s worth recapping what I’ve written about him before.

I first met General Gray when he was a Marine captain. That was in the early 1960’s in Vietnam. Over my thirteen years in-country, I kept running into him out in the field, with combat units. Then, in April 1975, as the fall of Saigon was getting closer, he showed up at my door. Here’s the story, quoted from my article, “Bitter Memories: The Fall of Saigon” (

“I started doing regular physical recons of the DAO building. Sometimes I took out a load of burnbags to the incinerator in the parking lot and burned them; other times I just wandered around. I wanted to be sure I knew beforehand if the North Vietnamese were going to breach the perimeter fence. As I walked the halls and crisscrossed the compound, I saw brawny young American men with skinhead haircuts who had appeared out of nowhere. They were dressed in tank tops or tee-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes. When two or three walked together, they fell into step, as if marching.

Marines in mufti! I knew all the Marines in country, and I didn’t recognize any of these guys. What the hell was going on?

“I found out that night. I was trying to grab a little sleep in my office. The door chime sounded. I grasped my .38 and went to the door. Through the peep hole I saw a middle-aged red-haired American man in a neon Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and rubber flip-flops. He gave me a flat-handed wave and a silly grin. It was Colonel Al Gray, a Marine officer I’d worked with over the years in Vietnam. I’d never before seen Al out of uniform—I didn’t think he owned any civies—and I knew he made it an iron-clad rule never to spend more than 24 hours in Saigon—his work was with his troops in the field and he disliked bureaucracy. I lowered the .38 and opened the door. “Hi,” he said. “Can I come in?”

More tomorrow.

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