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.
The 1st Cavalry was the first Army unit to have it's own helicopters and the Vietnam War was the first war in which they were used tactically in large numbers. Pilot Pat Richardson flew for them sometimes, as well as supporting Australian and New Zealand units. He remembers a party during which a couple of American pilots decided they could drink the Australians under the table. Bad idea.
Newly minted Marine Lieutenant Paul Van Riper received orders to go to the advisors course at Fort Bragg. He was being groomed to advise the South Vietnamese Marines and, once he arrived in country, he forged a close relationship with his counterparts. They would be living and working closely together, more so than the ARVN advisors.
Instead of anti-war protestors, Pat Richardson was greeted by a Texas cattleman who bought him drinks. Decades later, looking at the wide variety of books about the Vietnam experience, he recommends reading the ones written by those who were actually there.
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 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."
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.
Pat Richardson had served three years and was at at college when he went back for more. His first service was as a nuclear weapons technician, which instilled a good sense of procedure and precision. This helped him tremendously in his later duty as an aviator.
Pat Richardson's helicopter was blown up at Phu Loi, but he wasn't in it and it wasn't the enemy. While it was up on the rack for maintenance, from out of nowhere a rocket screamed in and it erupted in a huge fireball. As the men on the base scrambled for cover, it became clear that it wasn't Charlie shooting at them.
The radio operator said that a Bravo Report had come in. What's a Bravo report? Company commander Paul Van Riper was wondering but the main thing was that an NVA regiment was on the move. Before it was over, the Marines had a good haul of enemy arms and intelligence.
While serving in a remote area of Korea in the early sixties, Pat Richardson was surprised when the water purification unit disappeared overnight. Nobody knew where they were for quite a while. He flew in helicopters while there, never thinking that he would fly them himself someday.
Marine Paul Van Riper had high regard for the Vietnamese people and he had no tolerance for abuse of civilians in his unit. Ironic that he was called a baby killer and his family was subject to abuse when he returned from each tour. He attributes his lack of PTSD to staying on active duty, where the Vietnam veterans talked it out regularly, effectively becoming counselors for each other.
He was at artillery school manhandling howitzers in the mud. That all ended when Pat Richardson went to a briefing from an aviation officer signing up men for flight school. No mud up there. It meant two more years of service, but he still jumped at the chance.
The Vietnamese had a unit called the National Police Field Force and when a platoon of these men was sent to his battalion, Paul Van Riper insisted they be assigned to his company. He integrated them with his Marines and they functioned well together. He recalls a bunker clearing operation that had a surprise ending.
Most days, helicopter pilot Pat Richardson ferried troops on assaults. On other days, there were a variety of single ship missions including "sniffer" missions that were highly technical and a little boring. He would also ferry VIP's and special teams. He recounts one mission down to the Mekong Delta where he picked up an entirely new skill.
Omer McCants was born in a little Alabama town where everyone worked in the textile mills. He decided that was not for him, worked hard, and was the first in his family to graduate high school and go on to college. ROTC attracted him and he began to think like a military man.
To promote espirit de corps, Marine company commander Paul Van Riper required the men to fix bayonets as they crossed the wire. They were very dedicated to their unit, as demonstrated by one young corporal who was repeatedly wounded, yet kept returning. Then there was the Sergeant Major who gave him the highest compliment a young Captain can receive.
Pilot Pat Richardson details the different models and modifications of the workhorse aircraft of Vietnam, the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, known as the Huey. He reveals how it got that name, and why his commanding officer was doubly upset that one was accidentally destroyed by an errant rocket.
It was an easy commitment to make. Omer McCants stayed in the ROTC program so he would enter the Army as an officer, not a private. Not only that, but he was going to flight school. He had an advantage there because at Tuskegee he received flying lessons from the legendary Chief Anderson.
His father opened the newspaper and said to the boys, "Well, the war will be over pretty quick. They're sending the Marines." The Korean War did not end quickly, but for Paul Van Riper, that started a burning desire to become a Marine. His parents insisted on college, so he set his sights on being a Marine officer.
Based in a central location in Vietnam, helicopter pilot Pat Richardson was assigned a variety of missions and was always busy. When he could, he liked to refuel at a Navy base where he could get good chow. His own unit's cook was no slouch, and he had contacts all over to insure a good supply of treats like ice cream.