4:16 | He already had a pretty significant career, but Ralph Puckett went to Vietnam as a battalion commander and didn't waste any time getting into the field. His first matter of business was to assure his unit commanders that he had their backs.
Keywords : Ralph Puckett Ranger Fort Benning 101st Airborne Vietnam Salve Matheson rifle company
After twenty two years of service, Ralph Puckett retired and had a successful private life, but it was inevitable that he would reconnect with his beloved Rangers. His talent at building confidence is put to very good use at the Ranger school.
What do men need in a leader? Ralph Puckett draws on his long experience to answer that and then relate it to today's challenges for the military. He notes that some mistakes are repeated and that perhaps, "What we learned is that we don't learn anything from our wars."
He wanted to be a military aviator, but West Point had no aviation program. Impressed by the infantry leaders he encountered, Ralph Puckett decided there would be no truer test of himself than to become a combat infantry officer.
He was at jump school when he heard about the North Koreans invading the South. Determined to get in the war, young 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Puckett was at a stopover in Japan when he was told to report for possible selection for a special Ranger unit. He found out that the officers were already selected but he made a pitch to get on the team as a rifleman if nothing else. Come back tomorrow, he was told.
We were totally unprepared for war when we had to fight one in Korea. Ralph Puckett should know because his job was to take a small unit of new Rangers into the country for dangerous missions. They arrived at Pusan where the American forces had just barely avoided being pushed into the sea.
Piano wire? Those Rangers want everything, groused the supply officer. When the volunteer company got into Korea, though, they only had the most basic cold weather gear. The first mission for company commander Ralph Puckett and his men was to rout North Korean stragglers and units left behind when they retreated Northward.
It was called Hill 205. The small Ranger company was told to take and hold the hill. They did that as long as they could but Ralph Puckett and his men had to go through hell to do it. Waves of Chinese attackers had him calling in very close artillery strikes. He lay there, unable to move after three wounds, watching the Chinese bayonet wounded Rangers. Then two figures charged up the hill.
Both feet were severely injured so Ralph Puckett had some serious hospital time coming up. Evacuated from Korea to Japan, then back to Fort Benning, he could, at least, see his family. Then came a knock on the door and two pretty girls walked in. If only they knew what he had just told his father.
Battalion commander Ralph Puckett recounts the story of a night long attack by Viet Cong and NVA Regulars on a position held by one of his companies. He was grateful they had a Forward Observer to co-ordinate artillery support and helicopters for resupply, things he lacked in Korea. For his leadership during this attack, Puckett was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross.
It was better to put men in the field and leave them there. That was the philosophy of Battalion commander Ralph Puckett in Vietnam, where some commanders inserted and then quickly withdrew their troops. When the operation was over, the reward was beer and steak and ice cream. Being prepared was very important to him and he illustrates that principle with a story about some soldiers who were not.
It was nearly time to go home and Ralph Puckett was trying to rally his successor's spirits while showing him around the battalion's operations. Rely on your experienced men, that was his key point. His homecoming was bittersweet because his father was very ill but he was joyous to be reunited with his wife and children.
Ralph Puckett had two homecomings, from Korea and Vietnam. The first was all joyous, the second bittersweet. Despite the anti-war feelings so prevalent at the time, he experienced gratitude and respect in public.
After suffering severe wounds in Korea, Ralph Puckett spent two years at the Ranger Department in various training assignments. Then he went to a command assignment in Puerto Rico, a "go to war" company. He was given the job of setting up a short orientation school, experience that would help him on his next assignment.
It was an interesting assignment. Help the Columbian Army establish a Ranger training school and get it going. Ralph Puckett built up the program from nothing and he knew it was going to be very good, but he did have one problem, what to call the Columbian Rangers?
Ralph Puckett's favorite tour was the three years he spent in Germany with a Special Forces Group. He had his family there and the Ranger learned a lot from the assignment. It was early on for Vietnam, but he heard stories and began reading up on it. Back in the States in a Pentagon job, he asked to be put on the list to go.
Jim Benson's mission was to hold and guard the Tu Cau bridge. The work load on his men was heavy and he details the routine of patrols and ambushes, both day and night, that left the Marines exhausted. At the same time, he had to constantly train new replacements who had no combat knowledge.
The battle for Hill 875 took five days but David Brown was only there for two of them. He heard the piece of shrapnel from the enemy mortar shell whizzing through the trees before it hit him in the chin. As the Medevac chopper rose, he was told to throw out his weapon. This was very difficult for him but they convinced him he wouldn't need it anymore. At the hospital, he noticed the man in the next bed had something odd on his nightstand. "You don't want to see."
Bill Camper felt like the people of Hue supported the South Vietnamese soldiers he was advising. He made some headway encouraging those men to fight and he relates the story of how he taught them to advance through their own artillery barrage and surprise the enemy from the rear.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
The Kit Carson Scouts were Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers who had defected to the South. Many of them worked with American units to give insight to the tactics of the enemy and Owen Ditchfield was in charge of the program in his division. He would take them to fire bases where one of them would give a startling demonstration to the American soldiers.
Ron Mastin had been shot down and was somewhere North of Hanoi. He hid through the night but woke up surrounded by men with rifles. A long jeep ride was interrupted several times so villagers could jeer at him and functionaries could lecture. During his interrogation, they would tie his arms and pull them up behind his back, but what could a 1st Lieutenant tell them?
After his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the personnel office at Fort Benning. One day, he received a letter from a Vietnamese interpreter who had been left behind and was trying desperately to get out. That started a process that would end happily for both of them. Another happy outcome awaited Ditchfield when he was pushed out by the drawdown.
Ron Mastin took an ROTC commission out of college and went to flight school where he really took to it. His first assignment was in the back seat of an F-4 Phantom fitted for reconnaissance. He served a tour at an RAF base in England, then he was sent to Thailand to fly reconnaissance missions over Southeast Asia.
At the Hanoi Hilton, Ron Mastin's first roommate was Robbie Risner, commander of an F-105 unit and an early shootdown in the war. Risner was one of the most mistreated prisoners due to his intransigence and his leadership. When he refused to follow a script for a meeting with Japanese officials, he lost his roommate and Mastin was moved to another cell.
Owen Ditchfield was sent to Vietnam by way of the Defense Information School in Indianapolis. He was preparing to be the public information officer for the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam. Once there, he nearly suffered an accidental death in the officers club, but he survived and went on to host reporters Charlie Black, Joe Galloway and Peter Arnett.
While he was chaperoning reporter Peter Arnett around Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield got to hear the exciting story of a soldier who lost his rifle during an ambush and had to rely on his knife. He was also there when Martha Raye invaded the colonel's trailer. The reporters he hosted ran the gamut from celebrated author Joe Galloway to guys who wouldn't leave the hotel in Saigon.
Gordon Roberts was from a small town and the patriotic displays on national holidays made a big impression on him. His dream was to go to college, so he enlisted in the Army as soon as he graduated high school with the GI Bill in mind. He went through basic training and jump school at Fort Benning and, after a tour in Europe, was sent to the 101st Airborne in Vietnam.
Halfway through his second Vietnam tour, Owen Ditchfield was put in charge of the division's Kit Carson Scout program, which used Viet Cong who had turned to the South's side. These soldiers were so useful that American units competed to recruit them as they finished their indoctrination.
After the hard fight at Hamburger Hill, Gordon Roberts moved to an artillery fire base to protect it for a few days, then it was back to search and destroy missions in the A Shau Valley. The aim was to interrupt the flow of supplies from North to South. He was fortunate in that there were no civilians in the remote area, so he did not have to try and separate friend from foe.
For his second tour in Vietnam, Owen Ditchfield was assigned to the 101st Airborne in the A Shau Valley. Arriving just after the battle at Hamburger Hill, he was leading a patrol in the same area when the unit was pinned down by multiple enemy gun emplacements. A relief platoon ran into the same fire from the bunkers, but then Gordon Roberts stood up and charged the first position. Before it was over, four enemy positions were taken out and Roberts would deserve the Medal Of Honor.
Gordon Roberts was walking point when the third man in line was dropped by enemy fire. Unfortunately, he was the M-60 machine gunner who usually supplied the suppressive fire, so it was up to Roberts who managed to find the bunker and fire through the port with his M-16. Then came the fire from the second bunker.
Flying in a reconnaissance jet over North Vietnam, Ron Mastin was never aware of ground fire until the day he was shot down. Just a small thump thump and the plane was going down. He and Tom Storey ejected and he had a few serene minutes in the air before the ground came up. He had made it but he had no idea where Tom was.
There was a machine gunner in Mike Province's platoon named Emilio De La Garza. On a patrol, they encountered an enemy who indicated he wanted to surrender. De La Garza went to bring him in and, as they approached, he pulled out a grenade. When it was over, there was a Medal Of Honor waiting.