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 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 coordinate 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.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
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 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.
Jack Martin had no close personal relationships with Vietnamese civilians during his tour, but the children who gathered whenever he stopped his jeep were friendly and curious. They were interested in a physical trait that Americans had that none of them shared. He also hosted the occasional USO visitor, including Tarzan, who refused a helmet.
The Marines did what they could to help villagers with sanitation and health needs, but Michael Marshall could feel the chilly distance between them. His company commander was Captain Jerome Cooper, who held an important distinction.
As a battalion commander, Army engineer Jack Martin had a host of problems. From whether there were enough personnel to get the job done to keeping wayward enlisted men from abusing the Vietnamese civilians. Then there was the grim task of writing condolence letters.
He was used to discipline, so Marine boot camp wasn't so bad for Michael Marshall. When the drill instructor asked if anyone was unhappy and wanted to go to the Army, he thought surely no one would step forward.
Army engineer Jack Martin was offered his choice of assignments. It could be Korea or Vietnam and he hated cold weather so much, he chose Vietnam. His first assignment was at a desk in Long Binh, but his career got a boost when he was offered command of a battalion. He jumped at the chance and faced a host of challenging situations.
What was it like moving through thick jungle? Michael Marshall answers that question and more as he recalls his time in Vietnam. He loved his M14 rifle, but he wasn't too crazy about the C-rations and the old grenades.
Mike Law remembers some of the mechanics behind the explosives they used in Vietnam. Learning the intricacies of the aircrafts and detonatives they used was essential. The connections he made during his time in the service are still with him today.
With not much time left in country, Mike Law remembers being apprehensive about flying with the fear of getting shot down right before he went home. Seeing old friends that he served with was always nostalgic and brought back good memories.
When he stepped off the plane in Da Nang, Michael Marshall knew this was not a place you wanted to be. It was hot and there was a strange smell. Within days, he was with his Marine unit at An Hoa, providing security for bridge building engineers. It did not take long before he saw death.
His first assignment as a new platoon leader was to guard the base at Tan Son Nhut. This gave Greg Camp a chance to get to know his men. On his first foray into the field at night, he was positive he heard somebody crawling up to his position. All night long.
Mike Law remembers finishing school with plenty of flying time where he felt like he began to get proficient at flying. Operating his aircraft in Vietnam was always difficult with the NVA constantly shifting and having to learn their changing routes.
It was early in the battle when Michael Marshall pointed to the machine gunner to show him where to set up his weapon. An enemy round tore into his arm and he was knocked to the ground. The rapid response of his buddies and the evacuation team was outstanding. Back home, his employer before the war continued the good work.
Mike Law remembers some of his more memorable kills over the jungles of Vietnam and some of the funny events that can come from that. Building camaraderie overtime was very easy as the guys got used to serving next to one another.
Grady Birdsong remembers one of the funny moments during training. At Fort Pendleton, he went to basic electronics school and was passed despite not passing the class. Arriving in Vietnam, the humidity stuck with him as being one of the hardest parts about transitioning into lifer there.
Off the coast of Hue City, Grady Birdsong and his battalion set up to siege the beach, but fortunately nothing ended up happening. Once they got to a temporary basecamp, they began to prepare for a more legitimate field of defense.