I first met Al in Vietnam in the early 1960s when he was a captain. Over the years I kept running into him on the battlefields of Vietnam. He became something of a myth among the Marines for excellence in combat, his devotion to the corps, and his determination to accomplish his mission and look out for the wellbeing of the troops under his command. He was known for never asking his subordinates to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.
And it was Al and his Marines who saved my life as Saigon fell in April 1975. By that time, Al was a colonel. He and his troops were aboard ships of the 7th Fleet cruising out of sight of land in the South China Sea. I had succeeded in evacuating all but a handful of my 43 guys and their families, but to do that, I had to stay in Saigon until the end. Al and his Marines rescued the last of my men as the North Vietnamese laid siege to Saigon. Then, on the night of 29 April, after all my people were safely out and the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of Saigon, Al got me aboard a Marine helicopter which took me to the Oklahoma City, the flagship of the 7th Fleet. I flew out of Saigon under fire.
Al continued to stay in touch with me after he became a general. Over the years following the fall of Vietnam, he and I appeared together to tell our story at conferences and gatherings.
I don’t call him Al anymore. That stopped the day he was named Commandant of the Marine Corps. Now I call him “sir.” I have never met a Marine who doesn’t know who Al Gray is. He is one their heroes.
So I have a long history working with Marines. I had great admiration for them on the battlefield. And thanks to the Marines, I am alive today. Out of respect for the corps, its members, and General Al Gray, I always capitalize “Marine.”