3:31 | 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.
Keywords : Ralph Puckett Vietnam Ranger homecoming Korea West Point anti-war uniform New York City Wall Street Rockefeller Center protest
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.
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.
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.
Before he got to Thailand, fighter pilot Joe Richardson went through survival school in the Philippines as well as a little extra-curricular activity. When he did get to the air base at Ubon, he ran into a buddy who was in a squadron known as the Night Owls. Oh, I don't want to fly at night. Too bad.
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.
He had a suitcase in each hand when an anti-war protestor called him a baby killer and spit in his face. By the time Joe Richardson collected himself, the man had run off. Welcome home. He tried to stay in the Air Force but the downsizing eventually caught up with him and he went to work for the industry that had built the aircraft he flew. (Caution: strong language)
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. As difficult as this experience was, it was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. New wounded were 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/.)
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.
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.
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.
When it gets close to time to go home, for some reason, the danger increases. Some died during their last few days, but Vic Grahn made it back from Vietnam and didn't even get the rude greeting so many did when they returned. He became a flight instructor and nursed a bitterness towards the powers that be who abandoned the war when we had it won.
There was a Green Beret on the ground. He had just escaped from the North Vietnamese and fighter pilot Joe Richardson was tasked with laying down a smokescreen to aid in his escape. Years later, he ran into a man who's story seemed to line up with his. Was this the guy?
A-37 pilot Vic Grahn and his buddy Jack Beam were working a target with napalm when a bullet came through his windsceen and exited the cockpit through a side window. There was no other damage to his plane so he returned to the attack. Then Jack's plane took a hit as well but he, too, pressed on. You would think that the brass would like that but they didn't.
His father had been wounded on Tulagi, so he never got to be the Marine aviator he intended to be, but he did teach his son to fly. Joe Richardson soloed at fifteen and went on to become a fighter pilot.
What should future generations remember about the war in Vietnam? For Vic Grahn, it's all about those who fought the war being abandoned by their own leadership and the general public. What song takes him back? The answer is surprising though totally logical.
It turns out you can see a lot at night. Fighter pilot Joe Richardson was apprehensive about night missions over Vietnam but the tracers and the missiles were unmistakable. He had to learn how to out maneuver the surface-to-air missiles, which wasn't easy but it was doable.
There were no real anti-aircraft guns per se down in IV Corps. Vic Grahn took a lot of small arms fire and the occasional 20mm on his missions, which were often in support of troops in contact (TIC). He flew the A-37, a small highly maneuverable aircraft and that maneuverability came in handy when he was up in III Corps where the trees are bigger.
Don Rohde went into one tunnel, just to say he did it. They were everywhere and the VC would just disappear into them. He was a Corpsman attached to a Marine company and he took no gruff from a doctor who didn't appreciate his field emergency work.
Joe Richardson was three years into the Air Force Academy when he decided to quit. He didn't care that he would be exposed to the draft. When he brought recruiters into the Explorer group he was mentoring, he was so impressed with the film the Air Force recruiter showed, he joined up.
Fighter pilot Joe Richardson was laying chaff for a B-52 run over North Vietnam when the SAM's started to fly. That was bad but the worst was yet to come. As his squadron turned and headed for home, the bombers were headed the opposite direction. A head on collision would be disastrous. (Caution: strong language)
It was strange. Vietnam was a bit of a culture shock for Vic Grahn but he got over it. He was flying the A-37, a small jet aircraft designed for close air support to troops in contact (TIC). His base at Bien Hoa was the target of frequent rocket attacks which may or may not have disturbed the poker game.
The three companions were flying down to Webb Air Force Base to check it out. Joe Richardson was piloting the Beechcraft and while they were all going to be at flight school there, this was just a little pleasure trip. It nearly ended in disaster.
The Corpsman in Vietnam really saw the most difficult parts of war. Don Rohde will never forget the first Marine who died in his arms nor will he forget the first life he took, considering who she was and what she was doing. The Marines weren't arbitrary in their actions but if they took fire from a village, that village would burn.
He was a military man from day one. Vic Grahn's father had served in World War II aboard the USS Hornet and, when he came of age, he decided on the Air Force. A new war beckoned from Southeast Asia and he didn't want to miss out. With a commission out of ROTC in hand, he began his pilot training.
When Joe Richardson's squadron was working with some Navy pilots over the A Shau Valley, one of them made a mistake which caused some of their bombs to detonate prematurely. Two of his fellow pilots had to bail out. One of them was located fairly quickly but the fate of the other was unknown for a while.
Don Rohde decided to re-enlist. The Navy Corpsman really had his eyes opened in Vietnam and civilian life just wasn't working out for him. He and his pregnant wife headed for Camp Lejeune, where no one knew it yet, but there was something wrong with the water. (Caution: strong language)
Just as he was finishing flight school, Joe Richardson contracted Valley Fever, a respiratory illness connected to fungus in the soil in that part of Texas. It set him back because it took a while for the doctors to figure out what he had. He recovered and continued in his training as a fighter pilot. Finally, he was headed to Southeast Asia.