THE FULL STORY OF MY MEMORIAL DAY MESSAGE

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garyedolan
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THE FULL STORY OF MY MEMORIAL DAY MESSAGE

Post by garyedolan »

Prior to the past approximately fifteen Memorial Days, I have shared through emails and social media a Memorial Day Message. With this submission, I shall share the precipitating events and circumstances that encouraged, propelled and provoked me to write my message.
In early August,1970, I was fortunate to serve with the heroic “Charlie Rangers” as a First Lieutenant 2nd Platoon Leader, Company C (Rangers), 75th Infantry (Airborne), Vietnam. The company consisted of 236 Airborne qualified volunteers and a dozen or more “Chieu Hoi” scouts; i.e., former North Vietnam soldiers who escaped and volunteered to act as scouts against the North. Due to the size of the unit, its commander was the rank of a Major, not the usual company command rank of a Captain. During its time in Vietnam, the unit’s Officers and most of its senior Non-Commissioned Officers were Ranger School qualified. The unit did not belong and was not part of any Battalion or Regiment but was, in fact, directly under the First Field Commander, a two-star General. While this may have provided certain autonomy and questionable prestige, the real affect was a significant lack of administrative support. As a prime example, the unit was frequently put under the operational control of a major unit, such as the 173rd Airborne Brigade or the 24th Infantry Division, and had to beg them for allocations to enable the promotion of one or more of its Rangers to a higher enlisted rank to which they were long overdue.
The unit consisted of a command element that ran the rear headquarters office, the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and the Mess; three combat platoons; and a communications platoon. Each combat platoon was authorized six 6-man ambush teams, and each team had a Team Leader (TL), an Assistant Team Leader (ATL), a Radio-Telephone Operator (RTO), an M-60 Machine Gun Operator, a Riflemen with a Grenade Launcher (often called the “Thumper”) and a Rifleman who carried extra M-60 ammunition. The basic weapon was the M-16 rifle. Each man “humped“ about 90 pounds that was mostly extra ammunition, grenades and claymore mines for when they initiated an ambush, a “Hatchet.” Most of the unit’s TLs appreciated having the Chieu Hoi Scouts to serve as Point Man, since they knew and understood the enemy and could practically sense their presence and were fearless fighters, while some very few other TLs did not trust or allow them to accompany their teams into the jungle.
The Commo Platoon also consisted of 36- 40 personnel. As there were no such things as satellites and JPS, all radio communication was possible only by direct line of sight. Therefore, whenever ambush teams were to be employed into an Area of Operations (AO), a radio relay site had to be first identified and occupied. The Commo Platoon Leader would select the most appropriate and highest, centrally located mountain top that would be ideally only easily accessible by helicopter. A heavy team of 9 or 10 Rangers from the Commo Platoon would be inserted onto the designated mountain top and set up a large antenna for the duration of the AO. Hopefully, acting as a radio relay, they would be able to communicate with both the TOC and each deployed ambush team.
A point of interest to note is that the unit when not moving to a new AO had a team in combat nearly every day in which ambush teams were deployed. Charlie Rangers has the distinction of having called in more B-52 Arc Lite bombing strikes than any other unit in the history of the Vietnam War. Fortunately, the unit had 2 Cessna O-1 Birddogs for reconnaissance and Command & Control (C & C) as well as 2 Hueys and 2 Gunships in Direct Support, meaning when they were not being used by the unit they were sitting and waiting for use by only the unit. If a team made contact, then all other teams were immediately required to go to “Groundhog,” meaning the other teams were not to make contact as there might not then be enough air assets to provide additional combat support.
Since six men cannot and should not fight a war, a reaction force of a Battalion of South Vietnamese Forces, or a Company of Republic of Korea (ROK), or a Platoon of Americans was on stand-by. After initiating the Hatchet, the Ranger Team would withdraw, and the reaction force would be inserted to engage the enemy. The leader of the North Vietnamese Army, General Giap, sought to harness the anti-war sentiment in the USA. If he could secret three thousand troops across the borders of Laos and Cambodia, surround a Firebase and kill two hundred Americans, it would be a huge PR victory even if he lost two thousand of his own men. However, General Giap instructed his men not to become engaged with American forces unless it was a time and place of their choosing since the Americans had air superiority, fire superiority and nearly always operated in Battalion or Regimental forces. Consequently, when the Rangers executed an ambush, generally, the enemy thinking they had run into the lead element of a large American force would withdraw back to Laos or Cambodia. Following the war, after-action reports from General Giap shows he hated the Rangers because only 6 men disrupted a year long plan! Large cash bounties were placed on the heads of the green-faced American Rangers!
As their lives depended on one another, ambush team members were close knit. Since the teams might have to be supplemented due to R & R schedules, sickness or other duty assignments, this special closeness of necessity extended to the entire platoon members. Downtime enabled the members of the various platoons to intermix and become acquainted. A few extraordinary Rangers became not only well known, well appreciated and liked throughout the company, but also well loved. One such loved Ranger was SGT John W. Rucker of 3rd Platoon. He was gregarious and affable and stood tall with dark, black hair and an infectious, wide white-tooth smile.
While on patrol in December of 1970, John’s team was caught in a hasty ambush at extremely close range by a superior enemy force. The TOC loudspeaker at the Charlie Ranger tent camp announced that Team 32 was in contact and that “Juliet Romeo was Whisky India Alpha.” Everyone in camp understood that SGT John Rucker was wounded in action. Before the order was even issued, all the Rangers of 3rd Platoon in camp grabbed their combat gear and whatever ammo was at hand and raced to the 2 and a half ton army mess truck to take them to the waiting Huey immediately ordered by TOC. I had to restrain one of my 2d Platoon Rangers who, while wearing flip-flops, wanted to join the immediate reaction force on the truck. He managed to strike me on the chin with the butt of his M-16 before I was able to wrest it out of his grip. The TOC loudspeaker blared the unthinkable news that the “Whisky India Alpha was Kilo India Alpha.” My 2d Platoon Ranger with tears in his eyes crumpled to the ground and exclaimed to me that he felt closer to John than he did to any of his own teammates or fellow Rangers in 2d Platoon.
Many years later, the unit association invited John Rucker’s mother and family members to a reunion at Fort Benning and a ceremony conducted at the Ranger Memorial to honor the memory of John. Following the short speeches at the ceremony, the President of the association presented John’s mother with a bouquet of long stem red roses and a black beret.
A few months later, I received a phone call from a Charlie Ranger who requested I reach out to a particular Ranger who had been on the mission in which Ranger Rucker was killed. The Ranger who called me was worried that this particular Ranger was contemplating suicide and suffering from survivor’s guilt. The Ranger had already notified the VA suicide hotline but also wanted me to intervene any way I could.
Ranger Rucker was instantly wounded at the onset of the hasty ambush by the enemy. The other five members of the team were pinned down and unable to move at all due to the extremely heavy and incessant volume of enemy fire. No one could reach John until the reaction force arrived and the enemy withdrew. All five members of the team heard the anguished, agonizing screams, the calls to them for help. John begged them to help him stop the bleeding. Finally, as his life oozed into the jungle soil, they heard John calling out to his mother.
Unable to get the suffering Ranger to answer the phone, I wrote a letter to the Ranger exhorting him to conduct his life in an honorable fashion as John would have wanted for him and, in doing so, to honor the memory of John. I further indicated that surely God had saved his life for the express purpose of ensuring that John’s life and legacy would endure. I never received a response, but a few Rangers personally told me my words gave him a modicum of comfort and a renewed sense of purpose. Unfortunately, that suffering Ranger never attended a reunion with his War Brothers, as I have witnessed our reunions to be a cathartic, healing event.
Consequently, more than a dozen years ago, I composed and shared the following Memorial Day message that contains much of what I wrote to the Ranger suffering from survivor’s guilt. I will continue to share this message with the hope that it might inspire some of our citizenry and perhaps help ease a burden felt by a combat veteran.
How Can We Best Honor Their Memory on Memorial Day
I believe we veterans are a living tribute and have a solemn duty to bestow honor upon the memory of our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters who gave the full measure of devotion in defense of our country and in defense of each other.
As I get older, the depths of my feelings and emotions mature while I seemingly become less wise. Everything, and not just physically, was somehow easier when I was younger. I no longer have all the answers I enjoyed with my youthful wisdom.
I am not sure how best to honor those who died: for me, for my brothers-in-arms, for my family, for my future and for my freedoms.
One of the happiest days of my life was when I married my true love at West Point on Memorial Day, May 30th, 1970. So, when someone wishes me a “Happy Memorial Day.” I can beam with the happiest thoughts and reflections of that wonderful day. However, having departed for Vietnam the day after I returned from my honeymoon, the happy thoughts are as quickly departed and replaced with the evocative memories of my fallen heroes.
As I do every Memorial Day, I will return from marching with my local VFW in its annual Memorial Day Parade filled with high school marching bands, boy & girl scouts, soccer teams and hundreds of volunteer firemen. For all our parades, the veterans are always invited to lead the parade, even in front of the politicians. The small crowds lining the streets always clap the loudest for the veterans. I know they will soon dissipate to enjoy cook-outs with family & friends in this beautiful weather. I, myself, am looking forward to my own family being with me for a bar-b-que.
So, to the question of how best we can honor Their Memory on Memorial Day:
There is a phrase in the bible: “Who will honor him who does not honor himself?” As living tributes, I believe we must act honorably to honor the memories of our fallen. I believe we honor the memory when we accept honor. Allow the citizens to honor us in any way they choose, whether it be clapping when we pass in review, placing us on a dais, bestowing upon us proclamations or certificates or simply being the recipients of a “Thank You!” I think it is our solemn duty to demand honor. We are the voices of the deceased; we are the reminders of the deceased; we are the living tributes of the deceased. It is our duty to rekindle patriotic fervor in the beating hearts of our country-folk, to remind them by our honorable presence of the supreme sacrifices of our fallen heroes. I truly believe we Veterans are the living medals earned by our fallen heroes.
I believe our country deserves to be happy and free, because that happiness and freedom was bought with the blood of our fallen heroes. I think our fallen heroes would appreciate that our country is happy and free and would gladly accept those ideals as a wonderful tribute to their sacrifice. So, I personally am not disturbed to note that our people wish each other a Happy Memorial Day and celebrate the onset of summer.
I am also thankful. I am thankful that I once was young and soared with eagles. In my youth I did not adequately appreciate the full measure of the men with whom I served. Never again would I be in the company of men who would routinely offer up their own lives to spare mine; never again would I share unqualified trust and know that I was equally trusted. The respect, admiration, honor and love for these men with whom I served grows with each passing Memorial Day. I am thankful and prideful for all who served.
On this Memorial Day I also salute the Gold Star Families and promise to honor them with my own living tribute.
God bless all veterans!
Gary E. Dolan
USMA Class of 1969
Co C (Ranger), 75th Inf (Airborne)
Ranger Hall of Fame-2011
Gary "28"
Co C (RGR), 75 Inf (ABN) '70-'71
USMA 69; RGR 4-70; RHOF-2011
http://oftheirownaccord.com

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Re: THE FULL STORY OF MY MEMORIAL DAY MESSAGE

Post by Carpenter »

Thank you for posting this Ranger garyedolan.
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Re: THE FULL STORY OF MY MEMORIAL DAY MESSAGE

Post by Grifter »

Wisdom in an excellent post ..

Copied from above.

So, to the question of how best we can honor Their Memory on Memorial Day:
There is a phrase in the bible: “Who will honor him who does not honor himself?” As living tributes, I believe we must act honorably to honor the memories of our fallen. I believe we honor the memory when we accept honor. Allow the citizens to honor us in any way they choose, whether it be clapping when we pass in review, placing us on a dais, bestowing upon us proclamations or certificates or simply being the recipients of a “Thank You!” I think it is our solemn duty to demand honor. We are the voices of the deceased; we are the reminders of the deceased; we are the living tributes of the deceased. It is our duty to rekindle patriotic fervor in the beating hearts of our country-folk, to remind them by our honorable presence of the supreme sacrifices of our fallen heroes. I truly believe we Veterans are the living medals earned by our fallen heroes.
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Re: THE FULL STORY OF MY MEMORIAL DAY MESSAGE

Post by schibbs »

A gut wrenching and beautiful post, Sir! What so many of you warriors have endured is humbling. Thank you all!
schibbs
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