2:41 | 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.
Keywords : Ralph Puckett Ranger Outward Bound Columbus GA
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.
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.
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.
At the induction center, the men were told that some are going to the Navy, some to the Army. When the sergeant got to Stan Seaman, he laughed and said, "You know where you're going!" After basic training in Bainbridge, the next destination was Pensacola.
His ship was preparing for a NATO cruise, but Navy cutbacks led to the discharge of all personnel who were drafted. That meant that, after 21 months in the Navy, Stan Seaman was returning home. That was fine with him since he had a great job at Grumman, where he went on to a long career.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
Inchon did not have a deep water port. Ocean going ships had to drop anchor outside the tidal basin and offload the cargo and personnel to smaller vessels. Transportation officer Tom Pemberton expected to be sent up country, but he was given a job at the port.
Al Stiles was temporarily based in Argentina and his wife was with him there. As he was aboard ship going around Cape Horn, she was hospitalized and he was allowed to leave the ship and go take care of her. They had been told they would not be able to have children because of other issues, but a miracle occurred after they returned to the States.
Tom Pemberton was serving in Korea when his tour was reduced from fourteen to twelve months. His next post was Fort Campbell, where his wife joined him for the first time. He next had a tour in Germany, but Vietnam was beginning to heat up the Cold War.
While in the Mediterranean aboard the USS Talbot, Petty Officer Al Stiles flippantly suggested to the captain that he should be able to learn to drive the ship and stand that watch. To his surprise, the captain did just that and the captain of his next ship agreed to continue. This led to an interesting exchange between the captain and Admiral Stansfield Turner.
After two Vietnam tours, Tom Pemberton had an assignment at the Army Infantry Training Center at Fort Polk. The career transportation officer no longer had to worry about rocket attacks, he had to worry about dozens of buses and the occasional crazy recruit.
He'd been at sea for a while, so Al Stiles had some shore duty, first in Virginia and then Japan. After overseeing some major ship overhauls, he returned to sea on the USS Midway, his first time on a carrier. Meanwhile, at home, his wife found out some disturbing news about her health.
Don Lacy was a radio school instructor when the Navy came looking for technicians to participate in an atomic bomb test. He'd not yet been to sea, so he jumped at the chance. He studied the effects on radio equipment during Operation Crossroads, the detonations at Bikini Atoll.
At the Army port in Inchon, it was a 24 hour workday, with loading or offloading going around the clock until completed. Tom Pemberton started out as a stevedore officer, supervising the work on board. He later switched to the on shore job, coordinating the outflow of men and materials.
While an instructor in gunnery at the Dam Neck Fleet Training Center, Al Stiles put all his combat experience from Vietnam to use. He helped teach a new philosophy of fire control in which all of the ship's sensors are aligned to the same point.
While participating in the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll, Don Lacy had to change to new clothes frequently because they became so radioactive. The second test was underwater, which contaminated the sea for miles around. His job was to inspect radio equipment on the target ships, so he was fortunate to have no lasting effects on his health.
Al Stiles didn't think he was qualified for a job as weapons officer on a guided missile frigate, but he was wrong. He was even offered his choice of ships. This was to be his last sea tour and, after one more assignment as an instructor, his long Navy career was at an end.
Milton Kassel was called from the Naval Reserve into active duty during the Korean War. He was assigned to serve on a Merchant Marine vessel, going between the US and Korea, but through a stroke of luck, he wound up on a ship out of Charleston, SC and enjoyed a nice Med cruise.
Milton Kassel was engaged and the wedding was set upon his return from Atlantic exercises. While on watch, he received a message that his ship would be delayed, making him late to his own wedding. He was pretty upset when the ship's doctor said to him, "I can't let them do this to you."
Stan Seaman was an aircraft electrician on the USS Tarawa. In addition to those duties, he was assigned as a firefighter during emergencies. The ship performed anti-submarine patrols off the East Coast, along with a sister ship, each taking half the area. There was no shooting war, but the work was still dangerous.