And it was indeed Colonel Al Gray who managed my flight from Vietnam when it fell to the communists. By the time I had gotten all my 43 guys and their families safely out of Saigon, the North Vietnamese were already in streets. On the night of April 29, 1975, Al arranged for me to escape on a little Huey helicopter. Granted, it took so much lead in the fuselage from groundfire that I didn’t think we were going to make it. But we did. As soon as we were over water, the pilot dropped us suddenly down to just above the ocean, and my stomach stayed up in the sky. He told me later he had to do that because the North Vietnamese has surface-to-air missiles and might try to shoot us down. He flew straight to the flagship of the 7th Fleet, the Oklahoma City. In the pitch black and the pouring rain, the pilot circled and circled. Finally he went down very slowly and landed on the floodlit helipad on the ship. He told me afterwards that he, a civilian pilot, had never before landed on a ship.
That’s how Al Gray saved my life. I consider him to be a great man. And despite all his achievements, he is a humble man. He is a great leader because he has only two goals: to achieve his mission and secure the welfare of his subordinates. He never asks his men to do anything he won’t do himself. Instead, he gives them every support and urges them to be the best they can be. As a result, they outdo themselves and achieve amazing results.
Some years ago, I asked Al why he had never married. He told me that if the Marine Corps had wanted him to have a wife, it would have issued him one. In July 1980, when he was rising in the ranks and was expected to have a wife, he did marry a woman named Jan Goss. She died in 2020.
You may ask me why I always capitalize Marine. It’s to show the great respect have for that branch of service. And much of that respect is due to one man: Al Gray.
So when I learned that Al Gray was going to be at the February 18 celebration, I made sure I got there and participated. It was worth it. I got to speak to Al Gray one more time.