Continuing the story of Al Gray and the fall of Saigon:
By 27 April 1975, I’d gotten all my men and their families out of the country except for me and two communicators who volunteered to stay with me to the end. Just before sunset on 28 April, the bombardment started. Our western gate was hit. Two of the Marines manning it were killed. Their names were McMahon and Judge. They were the last two U.S. servicemen killed on the ground in Vietnam.
Washington finally countermanded the Ambassador and issued the evacuation order in the wee hours of the morning on 29 April. Al Gray and the Marines immediately flew in from the 7th Fleet, cruising out of sight in the South China Sea, and got us out. My two communicators went out in mid-afternoon. The chopper that took me out that night was fired upon repeatedly but escaped.
Some years before that, I had asked Al why he never married. “Had the Marine Corps wanted me to have a wife,” he answered, “they would have issued me one.” But once he had stars on his shoulder, all that changed: he got married.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit Al Gray with saving my life. I don’t call him Al any more. That stopped the day he became the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Now I call him “sir.” He’s the finest leader I’ve ever seen in action and a man I’m privileged to know.
General Gray was known for the two passions that drove him: fulfilling his mission at the highest level possible and the safety and welfare of his men. He never asked his subordinates to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself.
General Gray is now 92 years old. He has been kind enough to stay in touch with me over the years. I now know that once in my life I have known a great man that the world will long remember—General Al Gray.