Marines Fly Flags at Half-Mast After Revered Former Commandant Al Gray Dies at 95

Retired General Alfred M. Gray, 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps
Retired General Alfred M. Gray, 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps, speaks at the opening of the General Alfred and Jan Gray Study Room ribbon cutting ceremony at Gray Research Center, Virginia, January 15, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Eric Huynh)

The 29th commandant of the Marine Corps, retired Gen. Al Gray, 95, passed away Wednesday, the service confirmed.

Gray served as commandant from 1987 to 1991. He first joined the Marine Corps as a private, going on to attain the rank of sergeant before commissioning as an officer in 1952, according to his official biography. He served in the Corps for 41 years before retiring in 1991.

"Today I mourn with all Marines, past and present, the loss of our 29th commandant, Gen. Gray," Gen. Eric Smith, the current commandant of the service, said Wednesday in a press release. "He was a 'Marine's Marine' -- a giant who walked among us during his career and after, remaining one of the Corps' dearest friends and advocates even into his twilight."

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Gray was lauded by Marines, current and former, for his no-nonsense, salt-of-the earth approach to leading the service, including as a former enlisted man and as the country entered the Gulf War during his tenure as commandant.

"One of the things that really sticks in my craw is this zero-defect mentality," he once said, addressing Marines during a "60 Minutes" profile on him. "I have had it up to here with organizations and people who are afraid to let their people do things."

According to the release, all Marine Corps installations will fly flags at half-mast until sunset in mid-April to honor Gray's service and legacy.

The Corps said that Gray presided over significant structural changes in the service, including by developing Fleet Marine Force Manual 1, also known as "Warfighting." Under 100 pages, the Corps said that it serves to this day as the foundation for how Marines prepare for and execute operations.

"His contributions are many, including the development of our maneuver warfare doctrine, 'Warfighting,' which remains, to this day, the philosophic bedrock of how we fight as Marines," Smith said in the release. "Although he will be missed by all, his legacy will endure and his spirit will continue to live among us."

Gray was also known for emphasizing large-scale operations in hot- and cold-weather environments, a benefit to the Corps as it continues to operate in places from the Middle East to the Arctic. He advocated for military education, the Corps said, and ordered the establishment in 1989 of Marine Corps University, where generations of Marines have taught and learned.

Complimenting his "Marine's Marine" nature, Gray was the first commandant to have his official portrait taken in the camouflage uniform. He was promoted to the rank of general in 1987. After he retired, he spent his time in northern Virginia with his wife, Jan, until her death in 2020.

Marine Corps Times first reported that Gray died Wednesday morning.

Gray earned the Silver Star in Vietnam for rushing into a minefield to save an injured Marine, guiding medical attention to the Marine and administering first aid, according to his citation.

"Above all, I don't like it when my Marines, or the sailors that serve with us, when they are treated with less than the dignity they deserve," Gray said in an interview with "60 Minutes," which used his nickname, "Papa Bear" in its profile. "Those kind of things will get my attention very quickly."

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