We were in the kitchen having breakfast and my wife asked me about my Ranger training experience. As much as I explained, it didn’t come close to the real world of Ranger training.
As I remember, my fascination of the Ranger committee at West Point made me ask the Rangers what it took to become a Ranger. He said, “commitment”. At my age I didn’t understand that word. I was only a young twenty-year-old and barely new to the active army. I had served in the Army Reserves ever since I was 18 years old and had gone to two basic training while I was still in high school.
When I got stationed at West Point as a cadre, I hadn’t experienced the mentality of an Infantry soldier because I was not assigned to an Infantry unit. Rather, it was an Infantry detachment assigned to train and demonstrate infantry tactics to the cadets. So, my job was to support that mission in whatever capacity they asked me to. Now as a Private First Class I didn’t have any clout on what I should do but, I roll with the punches, so to speak. I noticed that the Rangers had a bigger responsibility. They were tough guys and they ran wherever they were going. They explained that in order to be a Ranger, you have to be in the best condition physically and mentally. I took that to heart.
Six months later, I applied to go to Ranger school and was approved. The ranger committee strongly endorsed my application with my company commander. I was on my way to Ft. Benning, Georgia but before that, I was told that I had to start getting ready physically. They told me to start running track with full combat gear on and combat boots so I could get a head start on the physical training I would get at the Ranger school.
They were right. As soon as I arrived on a military bus from the airport where they picked me up I was made to run up the barracks where I would spend six weeks. It was not basic training but they wake us up very early in the morning and started morning exercises. We started with regular exercises then finished with a run. This was not a regular double time nor a jogging. It was a run like somebody was chasing after you and you didn’t want to be caught.
We had an orientation and were assigned a buddy who was going to be with me all the time. Right after we attended classes all day on different topics. Mostly tactics and strategy and combat and reconnaissance patrols. After each class, we ran to the next class or chow. We were kept up late at night for night training. They also train us for swimming in the swimming pool to see if we could stay up paddling water for a long time. We would be in the swimming pool swimming back and forth underwater and learning to stay afloat. Wherever we went, we ran with full field pack loaded with 50 pounds of equipment and with a rifle.
One of our physical training was bayonet and knife fighting. The other was hand to hand combat. Both of them were with our buddy and sometimes with others. Being smaller than everybody else and younger, I was always in the losing end. I was still a young 150 pounds and quite thin. All the others were experienced soldiers or Marines who came from combat units and had been toughened up and knew the drills. I wasn’t but, I learned how to defend myself eventually. Weapons training came next. We were to learn how to shoot with a pistol and machine guns and sub machine guns plus a course in hatchet training. Later in the week were sent out to learn ambush and recon techniques. All this to get us ready for the next phase of our training.
Before that was to happened, we had one more obstacle to run. In order to go to the next phase, we had to prove that we were strong enough to complete our physical training by running a 5-mile course through the countryside with full field pack with our weapon. They gave me and my buddy a 30 caliber machine gun to run the course. He had his and I had mine. I figure I was in the best shape ever with all the extreme exercises we went through made myself run the course. I was doing ok but my buddy was lagging behind. If he didn’t make it, I wouldn’t make it. So, I grabbed his machine gun and carried it all the way to the finish line. My buddy almost gave up but I had to yell at him to get him going. We finished together. However, we were not through yet. After the run, we were brought to a sandbagged arena filled with sand and were told to all of us get in the arena. We had to fight each other and the last man would be crowned king of the hill. Most of them were smart and teamed up to get others and throw them out. I took my buddy and threw him out. However, they teamed up on me and threw me out. Then they went at each other. There was blood spilled but not so much.
That was the end of phase one. Phase two was a trip to Elgin Air Force Base in Florida. I didn’t know anything about the base. We were taken by trucks to Elgin and as we traveled through the base I assumed that we would be living on base. However, as we went through the far end of the base, we noticed trucks and tanks burning on the side of the road like a recent combat area. We finally ended up in a swampy area with wooden barracks where we would stay for another six weeks’ duration.
We were told that we would be given field training on day and night patrols. Right after the orientation, more running. They were explicit about that. Everywhere we went, we run. I figure that it’s going to be easy. We stayed up all night and started classes again in the morning. We hadn’t slept at all when they told us to get a few hours’ sleep. They woke us up for chow and a briefing later on for a night patrol through the swamps. Fortunately for us that we had to put florescent tapes on the back of our field caps so you can follow the man in front. When we finish the patrol we had to get a debriefing to find out what we did wrong or right.
At one time we had been going all night on a patrol and we were tired. They gathered us together and marched us to a swamp clearing. There was a large tree with steps up to the top where there was a small platform accommodating two men. We were asked to climb up to the platform with all our gear and jump down to a small square area filled with sand. It was a good 50 feet. I jumped down felled feet first with my buttocks touching the ground. Another time we did the same thing but this time the platform had a rope attaching it to another platform higher up that we had to climb up to it. From there was a rope attached to another rope which ran horizontal across the swampy river. Were to cross hand in hand like we were taught and when we reached the middle we were told to yell “Ranger”! and let go and fall down in the river. I went all the way and before I yell Ranger, my hands slipped and I fell down. They asked, “you want to try it again”? I did. By then I was boned tired like everybody else.
Every day and night we were constantly on patrols. One day we were taken to a minesweeper out in the gulf. Our mission was to rescue some diplomat from a fortified fort. We had to use rubber boats equipped with paddles. We had trained on them before so we were used to that. We slipped out from the mine sweeper into the ocean with large waves coming our way. It didn’t look like we were moving at all. As we got closer to the mainland, we had to cross a sandbar about 100 meters across. We picked up our boats on our shoulders and took it to the other side and started back in the water to the fort. The signal was a blinking light from the mainland and we started on that course. We attacked the fort and rescued the diplomat. We then had to retrace our steps back to the mine sweeper which was way out so far that we had to rely on compass readings. In my later years after retirement, I found that the fort we used for that raining incident was St. Augustine Fort.
After the six weeks was over I was asked to report to the company commander. He told me that I didn’t have enough points to complete phase two. I didn’t know that they were awarding points on strategy and tactics on which I was weak on. I thought I had finish strongly in every aspect of patrolling. They wanted me to do the six weeks over and I declined. Partly because I thought they were discriminating against me because of my young age. Also, all through the training, there were racist remarks from some of the others. I didn’t respond to them but chose to ignore them. So I returned to West Point a little deflated but sure of myself. That was my attitude and the Ranger committee decided to use me in their committee regardless. I had learned enough to train the cadets on how to use patrols.
Later when I was assigned to an Infantry unit in the Panama Canal Zone. I was sent to Ft Sherman Jungle School, another Ranger type training school. While there I learned what the third phase of Ranger School was all about. There was no running but we had to survive in the jungle with no food or water, climb the sides of hills which were over a hundred feet high and rappelling down, swim a river with alligators in it and build framework for a bed with tree sapling and eat off the land. Cross a Mississippi wide river with raft made up with sticks and brush and poncho. Get to the other side and climb a tree similar to the Ranger training and slide for life on a stick on a cable wire to the other side without falling in the water. After that, I was given a jungle expert badge which I wore with distinction.
My whole career was in the combat arms. Every time they needed a man to run a patrol, they turned to me because of the training I had gone through. They also sent me to demolition school in Germany to learn how to blow up bridges. This happened whether I was a foot soldier, mechanized infantry or cavalry. There was always a need for someone to move behind the lines to accomplish a mission.