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.
The patrols at the forward fire base were the scariest thing Larry Jennings did while in Vietnam. He was the supply sergeant but he also supported the line companies on their missions. Trip wires, rockets from bamboo tubes and mined bridges were a few of the dangers he faced. Then there was the sacred water buffalo.
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.
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.
The NVA was a trained army, but the Viet Cong were ordinary people, and that included women, children and old people. Larry Jennings was constantly on edge as he rode by the rice paddies, wondering which one of the workers out there would suddenly fire on him. He spent some time off in Saigon, which had it's own problems.
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.
Larry Jennings saw some of the younger soldiers in Vietnam going astray with the local women, which he attributed to the very young age of the men. Out in the field, friendly fire was sometimes a problem, affecting our Australian and Korean allies as well.
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.
Drafted in 1968, Larry Jennings spent almost a year at Fort Hood before drawing overseas duty. He asked if he was going to Germany. No such luck, it was Southeast Asia. The air base was under rocket fire when he landed and he had to crawl to a bunker, weaponless. Soon, he was up to speed and assigned to the 82nd Airborne as a supply sergeant.
Upon his arrival in Vietnam, Roger Hamann is assigned to serve as a "Rustic", communicating with French-speaking Cambodian troops from the back seat of an OV-10. Though he flies dozens of combat missions out of his Thailand air base, one in particular still haunts him.
Larry Jennings was in transit to a new outfit when the Viet Cong launched a furious attack on the holding company's base. Once that was over and he got to Pleiku, he was struck by the different environment that resembled his home. He was supply sergeant for an engineer company with a lot of heavy equipment, a tempting target for Charlie.
A veteran of World War II and Korea, Frank Noonan served long enough to make it to Saigon on the first American warship to venture up the Mekong River. There, he observed a German civilian use an unusual defensive technique when attacked at a sidewalk cafe. (This interview made possible with the support of JANIS HAUSER In Memory Of Alfred W. Hauser, Army Air Corps.)
Larry Jennings was a little older than most of the guys he served with in Vietnam and he tried to steer them away from the bad choices that they could easily make. Many of them looked up to him and took his advice, including one who didn't make it.
Larry Jennings returned from Vietnam knowing full well what the reputation of returning veterans was. He points out that women and children die in every war and in this particular war, many of them were in the ranks of the enemy. He does have fond memories of one child, a little girl at an orphanage near his base in Pleiku.
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.
Daily life included a shower from a hanging 55 gallon drum and maybe some C-rations. Larry Jennings was stationed at Pleiku where he engaged in search and destroy missions in addition to his job as supply sergeant. He reveals why the enemy had a better rifle and which was more dangerous, the line or the rear.
Larry Jenning's engineer unit was ordered out of Pleiku and back to the Saigon area. After a long trip that included passage on LST's, they settled in and waited. He had a short time left and he was trying to keep his head down when his buddy organized a trip to Saigon.
Ed Callison remembers his last few weeks in Vietnam and then returning home to the hostile climate for people who served in the Vietnam War. He is thankful for some of the good treatment he did receive, and grateful for the increased support today.
Vietnam veteran Larry Jennings describes the use of Agent Orange to deprive the enemy of its hiding places. It really worked well, but in 2001, he joined the long list of personnel who had lingering effects. He also had a small shrapnel wound, for which he received no Purple Heart.