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.
How did the rules of engagement in Vietnam affect helicopter pilot Rd Zielinski? He worked for Koreans and says that's all you need to know. He flew other missions and on one clandestine foray into Laos, he spotted two MIG fighter planes on a makeshift runway in the jungle. Could he be the first helicopter pilot ace?
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.
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 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.
When Ed Zielinski returned home from Vietnam, he took fire immediately, a spitball from an anti-war protestor. His entered a trying time in his life, but continuing to fly was a big help. He joined the National Guard and taught new helicopter pilots the real life skills they would need, the ones not in the book.
As the war went on, Ron Rutowski felt the culture and morale of Vietnam change for the Vietnamese and for the Americans. In an effort to create an outlet of peace for Viet Cong defectors, they began a pamphlet program to let them know how to effectively surrender should they want to.
Dick Dyer and Jim Thorne were in flight school together and they both were deployed to Vietnam with the 145th Aviation Battalion flying Hueys. There was a great need for pilots and every one of them practically had a helicopter strapped on.
It was hot at Fort Polk and he was getting picked on by the 1st Sergeant. Ed Zielinski found out why he was getting the business after he graduated from basic training, then it was on to flight school. Terrified at first, he gained confidence, especially when he made the switch to Hueys. At the end of the training, all the men played a prank on the platoon leader.
During firefights in Vietnam, there are always challenges that Rutowski and his unit always had to overcome. During one particular encounter, they had to worry about their position being compromised as they crouched in the woods hoping to stay hidden.
He was days from going home so helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski had an easy resupply mission with a green co-pilot. They were done and heading back when the mayday call came in. Two Cobra pilots were down and fighting for their lives. He turned to the rookie and said, "OK, we're going to the war."
Helicopter pilot Dick Dyer was sent to pickup supplies from a ship in the Mekong Delta, but when he approached, the call sign and frequency he was given for contact elicited no reply. Circling the ship, he saw other helicopters land and take off so he went on in. Then he got an earful.
Army brat Ed Zielinski had always been fascinated with flight. As a child he just knew he would lift off on a windy day with a long coat for wings. So when the draft loomed he decided he would try to fly over the rice paddies rather than slog through them.
Nineteen and invincible, newly minted helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski was singing on the 26 hour flight to Vietnam. Assigned to work with a Korean unit, he began to familiarize himself with the area he was based in, determined to be the best pilot there.
The call went out. There was a unit in trouble and they needed casualties evacuated. Huey pilot Dick Dyer responded, but as he was taking off with the wounded, there was a loud boom. He settled back on the ground and then he heard from his crew chief. This helicopter wasn't going anywhere.
The Koreans didn't speak much English, at least to him. They would point to a map and helicopter pilot Ed Zielinski would take them there. On one mission, he had to set down and wait. This gave him an unexpected opportunity to utilize his Texas quick draw skills.
What was Operation Lam Son 719 like? To helicopter pilot Dick Dyer, it was a "gaggle." There were so many aircraft flying at once, it seemed to him like hundreds. A recurring problem on these big troop movements was overloading caused by eager soldiers. On occasion, the pilots were tasked with transporting reporters.
The veterans today have it easier than Dick Dyer did when he returned from Vietnam. The mood is supportive, and when he wears his Vietnam Veteran hat, he gets a little of the love he missed back in the day. He is very proud of the role that helicopter pilots like himself played in the war.
The officers club for the helicopter pilots was one of the best in Vietnam, says Ed Zielinski. If only he could have figured out how the Korean officers were cheating at dice. There was another kind of wildlife there, elephants, which could also be enemy trucks, deer and wild pig, which you could barbecue, and monkeys, which you better not shoot if Ed was around.
Dick Dyer was in college ROTC when he was offered the chance to learn to fly. The program was geared to a private pilot license but the instructor was a a World War II flying ace. This gave him an advantage when he was commissioned and sent to flight school to learn to fly helicopters.