Gary Lillie was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 5, 1941. He grew up in a mixed ethnic neighborhood. He completed his high school education in Detroit, but remarked that his school has been run down since he attended.
He joined the Navy reserves prior to joining the Sea Bees. He was the third of four boys. He heard a great deal about the military experiences of his uncles who were in many major battles during World War II.
Gary enlisted in the Sea Bees after basic and volunteered for Vietnam. He tells the story of his CO changing the location of their camp moving six miles to the west. The next day they discovered that the original site was attacked and nothing was left of the site.
Gary was involved in setting up numerous camp sites for the Marines while he was in Vietnam. Although his Unit experienced many overhead attacks, his Unit did not experience any casualties.
When he returned to Michigan, he had lots of problems that led to heavy drinking. It wasn't until 1989 that he sobered up. Gary worked as a carpenter when he first returned home but eventually ended up in real estate. Gary is active in the Vietnam Veterans group. In the early years after returning he was shocked by the hostility people had towards Vietnam veterans. He is thankful those feelings are not present today.