On Wednesday, November 10, the United States Marine Corps will celebrate its 246th birthday. Even though I was never a Marine, I’ll celebrate it, too. During my years of assisting troops on the battlefield, my favorite service was the Marines. Members of the corps invariably exploited to the hilt the intelligence I was able to provide them. I enhanced their success on the battlefield.
I’ve written here before about a stellar member of the corps I’ve known for more than fifty years, Al Gray. Al was a captain when I first met him in Vietnam in the early 1960s. Before becoming a combat commander, he had worked as a signals intelligence specialist. So he understood and appreciated the contribution I could make, as a signals intelligence professional, to the force on the battlefield—I could tell the friendlies where the enemy was, which units were arrayed against us, and whether they intended to stay hidden or attack us. Too often, army commanders I was supporting failed to believe and act on the intelligence I was able to provide, most famously during the 1967 battle of Dak To—one of the bloodiest battles of the war—and the 1975 fall of Saigon. Al and his Marines never failed to exploit the intelligence I provided.
Marines, under the command of Al Gray, by then a colonel, rescued me when Saigon fell in 1975 and I escaped under fire. Al went on to become a general and, eventually, Commandant of the Marine Corps. All the Marines I met over my years of service knew who Al Gray was. He was a hero to them. And yet, despite his fame and seniority, General Gray (I no longer called him Al; I addressed him as “sir”) stayed in touch with me over the years.
More next time.