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. For his actions in this battle, he would be awarded the Medal of Honor.
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.
When someone at work made a comment that America had lost the Vietnam War, Roye Wilson was shocked. Our soldiers never lost a battle there. The politicians decided they would leave and they did. To him, it was an honorable enterprise and the only right course at the time and it is his belief that it contributed to the fall of Soviet communism.
Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
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.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
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.
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. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
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.
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.
Mike McCormick always wanted to be a soldier and an officer, but after two years of college, he became restless and left school for a job with the FBI. The lure of the military was strong, though, and he returned to the ROTC program at Western Kentucky University.
His father was a pilot and flight instructor, so flying was a lifelong dream for Ron Dillard. He wanted to get Uncle Sam to pay for his training, so he entered Western Kentucky University and the ROTC program and joined the Pershing Rifles.
When his National Guard unit was activated, Roye Wilson went with them to Fort Hood for training with the 1st Armored Division. They received all new gear and weapons, including brand new howitzers. It wasn't long before he was in Vietnam, marveling at the sights and sounds of the first firefight.
Ron Dillard recalls several interesting events from his days as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, including his first formation flight with a cocky young pilot. Once, he was alone in a small aircraft when two Marine Corps jet pilots tried to scare him. Another hairy experience was landing in triple canopy jungle.
Mike McCormick gives his honest assessment of what went wrong in Vietnam. Although we could have easily prevailed by doing what the leadership was unwilling to do, for him the greater mistake was allowing the French to re-assert their colonial power there after World War II.
Flying was his lifelong dream but new helicopter pilot Ron Dillard got stuck in a desk job when he got to Vietnam. Not only that, he was the safety officer, which meant that the other pilots thought he was monitoring them. He was over five months in before he managed to get out of headquarters and fly actual missions.
If you were smart, you could avoid the booby traps, but what you couldn't avoid were the questionable tactics. Mike McCormick wanted to know why they were going back to the same piece of land over and over, taking casualties and then leaving. The brash young lieutenant got no real answer.
Helicopter pilot Ron Dillard never encountered any serious anti-aircraft batteries in Vietnam, but he did take a single round to his Huey, which caused him to return to base. He had more trouble with leeches while he was on the ground.
As the years went by after the war, Roye Wilson began to notice how many of his fellow Vietnam veterans were suffering from cancer. He had recovered from two different bouts with the disease himself, and the question was always there. Did this have anything to do with Agent Orange?
Jim Smith was part of the last group of helicopter units remaining in Vietnam. He was flying missions out of Cam Ranh Bay for MACV, the Military Assistance Command. He met the delightful Montagnard people on these missions and had a brief billet in the mountain resort town of Da Lat.
For Mike McCormick, who worked in counterintelligence in Vietnam, there was a lot of time spent outside the wire in small teams, tracking down and apprehending VC and NVA agents. He could have easily qualified for an Air Medal with all the time spent on choppers doing this. The unit recovered some documents that proved the Michelin plantation was paying protection money to the Viet Cong.
Members of Roye Wilson's artillery unit had been scattered around South Vietnam, but they all converged on Phu Bai when it was time to go home. They were spared the ill treatment by anti-war protestors and were greeted warmly by friends and family back in Kentucky. He stayed on for a thirty year career in the Guard and Reserve.
Jim Smith tried not to make close friends with anyone in Vietnam. You never know when they might get killed. He flew missions for MACV, the advisory group which had a lot of special forces assigned to it. These men had to be trained on triple canopy extractions, a tricky business.
It was a dangerous business being an infantry platoon leader in the Vietnam highlands. Mike Devine knew that the enemy would target him because he was always next to the radio operator's tall antenna. He was very close to his RTO and this led to the toughest moment he had to live through during the war.