5:07 | 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.
Keywords : Ralph Puckett Vietnam Ranger beer steak ice cream Bob Hope Donut Dollies helicopter smoking mortar Steve Arnold
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.
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 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.
Upon leading the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Myron Harrington had to help conduct an attack on the citadel in Hue City, Vietnam. This is the story of how he and his men charged the tower, which took longer to accomplish than expected.
Willard Womack gives his account of the Battle of Ap Bac, a significant turning point in the Vietnam War. It begins with him hitching a flight to Saigon to pick up the pay for his outfit. Detoured on his way back to his base, he saw a group of men listening intently to a firefight on a radio. Part 1 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
There were 87 men on some high ground surrounded by Viet Cong and Marine helicopter pilot Bill Cunningham had a problem. There was only room for one ship at a time to land in the tiny landing zone they had hacked out of the bush. It would be one at a time so he spiraled down for the first load. Then he felt like a sledgehammer hit his leg.
As the American advisor argued with his Vietnamese counterpart over the radio, Willard Womack, an Army pilot stuck in transit, could hear the frustration mounting. The battle of Ap Bac could not be won with these tactics. Eventually, the evacuation was made and, weeks later, several of the aviators involved hitched a ride to Saigon for a night of carousing. Pt 2 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
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.
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.
Willard Womack was nervously awaiting the news of what happened to the helicopter carrying some of his friends who had just participated in the Battle of Ap Bac, a crucial turning point early in the war. They had come though that unscathed but were now missing. Decades later, he received an email that brought the memories flooding back. Part 3 of 3. (This interview made possible with the support of RALPH J. TINGLE.)
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.
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. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
After joining the army, Reed had no idea what was in store for him next. At this point, no one had even heard of Vietnam. Here he remembers what it was like to be part of the first division to be sent there, and tells of many important men he remembers from his unit.
On a sweep through a rubber plantation, the South Vietnamese unit made contact with the enemy and the fighting became fierce. American Advisor Nat Robb fell behind with one of his men and he had one thought. This was it. It was be killed or be captured and he knew which it would be.
Myron Harrington grew up with a very loving family, including a father who was a World War I veteran, and knew from a very early age that he wanted to go into the military. Before he did so however, he took a number of classes at a few different schools for training.
In his early years, John Reed had a bit of a difficult time with his family. His brother was very aggressive, but luckily that showed Reed how to stick up for himself at a very young age. His father was also at war while he was growing up, so he had a bit of exposure to the nature of the military before joining himself.
Once the Tet Offensive was beaten back, Nat Robb was on a Saigon highway with the South Vietnamese unit he was advising when he saw a funny sight. The first supply trucks that were allowed to move after the massive attack had an interesting cargo.
After traveling around a lot post-returning from Vietnam, Harrington actually went back to the country for his second tour. This time he was an advisor, and the war was very close to an end. In addition, he shares some final thoughts about the war and for future generations.
As a Citadel graduate, Nat Robb had a good chance to make a career of the Army, so he took the commission. After a tour in Germany, he got the assignment to Vietnam. Once there, he was reassigned as an advisor to a South Vietnamese unit, something he was disappointed in, at first.
Due to his network of friends and colleagues, Lt. Harrington was able to find himself taking over the Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. This unit was heavily trained and ready for combat, which really helped in the long run.
Nat Robb got to know the efficiency of different weapon systems when he called in fire support to the South Vietnamese unit he was advising. He would work his way through various types of artillery until he got to what worked every time, big bombs from the air.
Here Myron Harrington talks about what happened after the intense battle of Hue City in Vietnam. They had a brief rehab period to compensate for all the lost men and heavy casualties. Harrington was thankful that he was still alive after all of that.
After recalling a deadly close call of one of his fellow soldiers, Reed remembers another few men who had an impact on him during the war. One of these is a man named Sammy, who was his team's medic. It was Sammy that helped that very same soldier get back on his feet after the injury. Part 2 of 2.
American Advisor Nat Robb did not run the South Vietnamese unit, but he controlled the fire support that sustained it. He spent his entire tour in the field with them except for a couple of leaves. He wonders if the way the Army rotated troops in and out of the war was the best way to fight it.
When he saw the weapons the Vietnamese infantry had, American Advisor Nat Robb thought he was in World War II. M-16's were on the way but, in the meantime, the untested unit had to fight. There was little activity at first, but it was just a matter of time.