Al Gray enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1950. The closest recruiting office to his Point Pleasant Beach, NJ, home was in New York City, and the recruiting officer was then Major Louis Wilson. In 1976, the 26th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the same Louis Wilson, promoted Al Gray to Brigadier General; General Wilson quipped that he was promoting Al Gray in order to prove that some Marine recruits turned out to be okay.
Old-timers may recall that in the late 1970s, several senior Marine generals were southerners: General Wilson was from Mississippi; the Assistant Commandant, Robert Barrow, was from Louisiana, and John Miller, who was General Gray’s boss at the time, was from Texas.
Sometime after the promotion ceremony, Brigadier General Gray was part of a panel at Quantico; he was asked to what he attributed his rise through the ranks from enlisted man all the way to general officer? Gray pondered the question for a few seconds and then replied, “Well, my career really took off when I realized that I was from Southern New Jersey.”
General Gray’s sense of humor is one of his finest traits. There are many examples of how he used humor to convey his message.
When he was the Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division, he once limped into a meeting with his staff and senior commanders. Everyone was concerned about the General’s apparent discomfort as he massaged his shin.
Someone asked, “How did you hurt yourself, General?”
Gray continued to massage his leg and finally answered, “I tripped over some of those weeds near the 2nd Marines’ barracks”
Needless to say, all the lawn mowers at Camp Lejeune were checked out immediately as subordinate commanders made sure their areas were shipshape. Gray’s use of humor to get his point across was much more effective than yelling and screaming would have been, and it maintained the existing high morale of the division.