THE KOREAN WAR
by LTC JD Lock
During the early stages of the Korean Conflict, the Eighth Army command found itself impressed by the effectiveness of infiltrating North Korean specialized small units. Needing a unique small unit of its own to patrol a small salient north of the Pusan Perimeter called the Pohang Pocket...a reentrant into the perimeter...the Eighth Army assigned the task of organizing a commando-style unit to its G3 who passed it along to Colonel John H. McGee, head of G3 Miscellaneous Division.
Eight Army Ranger Company
Afforded only seven weeks to select the personnel, organize and train the unit, and armed only with a copy of the Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) used by Ranger companies near the end of World War II, Colonel McGee flew from Korea to Camp Drake, Japan, on 8 August 1950 to begin soliciting and interviewing potential candidates for the new unit. Based on a recommendation, the colonel sought out a 1949 West Point graduate, Second Lieutenant Ralph Puckett, while at the Replacement Depot. Puckett immediately volunteered for the Rangers for he "wanted to be with the best."
When informed that the only officer slot left to fill was that of commander...a captain's position, Puckett answered that he would "take a squad leader's or rifleman's job" if it would secure his assignment to the unit. Not only did this warrior spirit get him assigned to the Ranger unit, it also earned him that commander's position. Unknown to Puckett at the time, two of his classmates, Second Lieutenant Charles Bunn and Second Lieutenant Barnard Cummings, Jr., had been selected as platoon leaders and had been the ones to recommend to McGee that Puckett be interviewed.
Puckett, fresh out of Infantry Officer Basic Course (IOBC) and airborne school, began to form his combat command. Formally designated the 8213th Army Unit (AU), the Eighth Army Ranger Company (8ARC) was officially established by Eighth Army General Order Number 237 on 25 August 1950. Organizing the company into two thirty-six man platoons and a five man company headquarters element, Puckett and the 8ARC departed Japan by ship and arrived at Pusan on 1 September...the first Ranger unit deployed to the Korean conflict.
The Rangers moved to Kijang, a small village northwest of Pusan, where a training camp dubbed "Ranger Hill" had been prepared by Colonel McGee. Despite only five and a half weeks of the allocated seven weeks of preliminary training, it was proposed that the company be assigned to combat duty effective 11 October. The company was attached to the 25th Infantry Division, IX Corps, for anti-guerrilla operations and was ordered to move no later than 12 October.
The Ranger company sector was divided into two areas of operation. Continuous day and night sweeps were to be conducted, ambushes were to be initiated along known and suspected routes of enemy passage, roadblocks established with the Reconnaissance Company, and prisoners captured, if possible. The Ranger company's combat initiation proved to be a rather smooth transition as the platoons went about their missions.
Throughout this shakedown period, Lieutenant Puckett continued to stress and emphasize learning from one's mistakes. Rotating between platoons, he would require each platoon to conduct detailed debriefings after each operation. These reviews assisted the unit's refinement of their standing operating procedures (SOP), patrolling techniques, and immediate battle drills...especially those that focused on immediate action to enemy contact.
On 10 November, the Ranger company was attached to Task Force Johnson where they assisted the task force's advance north. Later, on 22 November, they were linked up with a medium tank battalion, Task Force Dolvin. Task Force Dolvin crossed the line of departure (LD) at 1000 on the 24th with the Rangers in the center of the formation task organized with and riding on the top of a tank platoon.
The company moved on its objective, Hill 222. Taking enemy fire, suffering their first KIA, and enduring friendly fire, the company made the tough climb, swept and cleared the objective hilltop. Casualties and near-zero evening temperatures reduced the Ranger company's strength to fifty-one combat effectives.
The task force resumed its attack the next morning to capture its next objective, Hill 205. Reinforced now with an entire tank company, the Ranger company advanced under mortar, machinegun, and small arms fire. Struggling to keep the buttoned-up friendly armor firing in support, Puckett and his company fired and maneuvered across the objective. Reorganizing and consolidating on the objective with a 360-degree defensive perimeter and crew-served weapons sighted on likely enemy avenues of approach, the Rangers found that their strength had been reduced by nine more soldiers.
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Satisfied with his defensive positions, Puckett walked back to the task force command post to coordinate his artillery fire support plan. While there, he also evaluated the overall tactical situation based on the battalion operations officer's (S3) map overlay. What he saw, he did not like; his company, sitting on the very top of the hill, had both flanks exposed. There was a several kilometer gap between the Rangers and the nearest friendly units.
Continuing to dig in, the Rangers prepared for the inevitable Chinese counterattack that they knew would take place later that night or early morning. Battle-weary, the misery continued as the temperatures continued to drop. At 2100, the unit listened to a firefight in the distance, not knowing that swarming Chinese forces had just overwhelmed a friendly platoon.
An hour later, a mortar barrage cascaded on the Rangers' positions...the opening bell to an overwhelming sequence of Chinese attacks. Lifting their fires, the Chinese ground assault against the Rangers commenced with the blowing of whistles and the blasting of bugles. Swarming up the hill amid a storm of hand grenades, the Chinese attack was welcomed by the Rangers with an overwhelming fusillade of small arms and grenade fire of their own. Firing preplanned missions and illuminating the hill's slopes, of which the front and rear were quite steep, with flares, Puckett directed the Rangers' defenses.
The accurate direct and indirect fires decimated the assaulting Chinese formations. By 2350, the Ranger company commander was able to report to the task force that the attack had failed and the Rangers still held the hill. The attack was not without cost, though. Additional Rangers had fallen in defense of Hill 205 and Puckett himself had been wounded by a shard of grenade shrapnel that had pierced his thigh. The American tank company, located to the rear at the base of the hill were unable to fire a single shot in support of the Rangers throughout the course of the battle.
Throughout the next three hours, the Chinese launched four additional human wave attacks against the Ranger position. While concentrated direct and indirect fires took their toll of the attacking enemy, there were moments when the Rangers' perimeter was breached. The "spirit of the bayonet" was very much alive as it was used by the Rangers to secure these breaches. Moving about the perimeter checking the status of his men and injecting himself at the point of decision, Puckett steadied his men and directed his command's defenses, calling in artillery fire "danger close" to place a high explosive wall of steel significantly closer to their positions than the doctrinally recommended 600 meters.
The sixth, and final, Chinese blow directed at Hill 205 was launched at 0230 as a battalion-sized force directed their main effort at Puckett's exposed right flank. Already significantly hampered by casualties and shortages in ammunition, the Rangers were unable to react quickly enough to this overwhelming threat. Led by mortar fire and hand grenades, the enemy breached 2nd Platoon's sector and proceeded to begin overrunning the Ranger defenses. Artillery was not available for it was firing a mission in support of another heavily engaged infantry company.
Inside a foxhole, on his knees and continuing to call for artillery support, a tremendous blow to his feet, butt, thigh, and arm stunned Puckett. A mortar round had impacted and detonated in the foxhole. A moment later, he suffered similar wounds from the detonation of a second round. In the hole with him were Cummings and Corporal James Beatty. The resulting blasts killed Cummings and seriously wounded Puckett.
The Chinese had finally overwhelmed the Rangers' position. Isolated Ranger elements continued to fight against the staggering odds as Puckett, still conscious, reported his unit's situation to the task force. With the enemy shooting and bayoneting Rangers in their foxholes, survivors sought their escape from the hill. Failing to leave a wounded comrade behind, many surviving Rangers assisted their injured buddies off the hill. The unit's after action account noted a number of heroic actions taken that night.
Moving about the fire-swept terrain, Sergeant John Diliberto organized his men for the withdrawal and started them on their way to more tenable positions. As he proceeded to fall back himself, he observed two of his comrades lying wounded on the exposed terrain. Without regard for his personal safety, he returned to the helpless men and dragged them both to safety as the enemy overwhelmed the defense perimeter.
Another Ranger, Private First Class David L. Pollock, upon observing that the company commander had been seriously wounded and was unable to move, fought his way to Puckett's position, where the Ranger commander was crumbled on his hands and knees just outside of the foxhole and unable to move. With the assistance of Private First Class Billy G. Walls, Pollock grabbed Puckett, who had suffered his third wound of the evening, and dragged him down the hill, gathering other Ranger survivors, avoiding capture, and killing along the way a Chinese machinegun crew setting up their weapon.
During this escape, when Walls asked at one point if he was all right, Puckett retorted, "Yes, I am all right! I'm a Ranger!"
Placed on the back of a tank at the bottom of the hill, Puckett was evacuated to the task force's aid station. Hospitalized because of the severity of his wounds until November 1951, Puckett never returned to command the Eighth Army Ranger Company.
Another of Puckett's men, Ranger Bill Kemmer, realizing that his Ranger buddy, Ted Jewell, was not at the bottom of the hill, returned to the top of Hill 205 to aid his wounded friend down the hill to safety.
Other Rangers were not so fortunate. Ranger Merrill Casner, seriously wounded by grenade fragments and unable to move, watched one of the few black Rangers in the unit, Private First Class Wilbert W. Clanton, charge with only a bayonet in hand a group of enemy soldiers only to be cut down by their fire. Casner himself had the muzzle of a rifle placed against his head and a shot fired. Fortunately for him, the resulting injury was not serious enough to prevent him from making his way back to friendly lines later that morning after the Chinese had departed the hill.
Some Rangers still wanted to continue the fight despite the odds. Surviving the annihilation of his squad, Ranger Merle Simpson escaped to Private First Class Harland Morrissey's squad, screaming a warning about the advancing Chinese. Initially ordering his men to "Fix Bayonets!," Ranger Morrissey realized that discretion was the better form of valor when he noted the staggering number of enemy cresting the hilltop.
Ordering his men to "get off the hill," Morrissey led his squad's withdrawal while four brave Rangers...Sumner Kubinak, Librado Luna, Alvin Tadlock, and Ernest Nowlin...sacrificed their lives by remaining behind to form a rear guard providing covering fires. Three other Rangers were cited for gallantry, sacrificing their lives by remaining in position, firing at the enemy with fierce determination as their comrades fell back: Private First Class Harry Miyata, Private First Class Roger E. Hittle, and Private First Class Robert N. Jones. These seven men, Clanton, and two others would receive the Bronze Star for Valor.
At the base of Hill 205 that night, the Ranger company senior noncommissioned officer (NCO), First Sergeant Charles L. Pitts, assembled and reorganized the Ranger survivors. Unfortunately, dawn of the 26th found only one commissioned officer and twenty-one enlisted soldiers present for duty.
The blow that nearly annihilated the Eighth Army Ranger Company was part of a 500,000-man Chinese offensive opened on Thanksgiving Day that surprised, staggered, mauled, overwhelmed, and broke United Nations units all along the front. Entire divisions were encircled and had to fight their way through Chinese roadblocks and ambushes established along main escape routes. The 25th Infantry Division was forced to fight a series of delaying actions. In order to save Task Force Dolvin from destruction, reserves under the command of the assistant division commander, Brigadier General Vennard Wilson, had to be committed to save not only the task force from being destroyed but to also assist the 25th's withdrawal to an area nine miles north of Kunu-ri.
In recognition of their heroic stand on Hill 205 against a force estimated to be a 600-man battalion, twenty of the forty-seven Rangers of the Eighth Army Ranger Company present for duty that night were awarded a Distinguished Service Cross...Puckett, five Silver Stars...Pollock, Walls, Morrissey, Diliberto, Cummings, and fourteen Bronze Stars with "V" device.
Reconstituted and newly identified as an 'Airborne' Ranger unit, the 8ARC recommenced operations on 16 December with combat and reconnaissance patrols. General Orders Number 172, issued on 27 March by Headquarters Eighth Army stated: "Eighth Army Ranger Company, 8213th Army Unit is discontinued in Korea effective 28 March 1951." On 31 March 1951, the 5th Airborne Ranger Company, a unit formed and trained in the United States, was officially attached to the 25th Infantry Division to replace the Eighth Army Ranger Company.
Interestingly enough and despite their example, the Eighth Army Ranger Company is not officially considered to be part of the proud lineage of the 75th Ranger Regiment. In that the company was a temporary Table of Distribution & Allowances (TDA) unit and not an official TO&E organization activated by the Department of the Army (DA), it is not regarded by Army regulation to be part of the official Ranger heritage. Unofficially, though, its place in Ranger lore is assured. Fittingly, Colonel (Ret) Ralph Puckett, a member of the Ranger Hall of Fame, was designated an honorary Colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment in 1996.
On 29 August 1950, shortly after having returned to the United States, Army Chief of Staff General J. Lawton Collins directed the formation of "marauder companies" on an experimental basis, noting that, "One of the major lessons to be learned from the Korean fighting appears to be the fact the North Koreans have made very successful use of small groups, trained, armed and equipped for the specific purpose of infiltrating our lines and attacking command posts and artillery positions."
|Korean War Ranger Units|
|Ranger Company ||Activation Date ||Unit Attached ||Duty Station ||Inactivation Date|
|Eigth Army |
|15 AUG 50 ||25 ID/IX Corps ||Korea ||28 MAR 51|
|Eigth Army |
|12 NOV 50 ||3 ID/8227 AU -|
Special Activities Group
|Korea ||1 APR 51|
|1st ||28 OCT 50 ||2 ID ||Korea ||1 AUG 51|
|2nd ||28 OCT 50 ||7 ID/187 ARCT ||Korea ||1 AUG 51|
|3rd ||28 OCT 50 ||Ranger Tng Cmd |
3 ID/I Corps
|Ft. Benning, GA / Korea ||1 AUG 51|
|4th ||28 OCT 50 ||1st Cav Div. |
1st Marine Div.
|Korea ||1 AUG 51|
|5th ||20 NOV 50 ||25 ID/I Corps ||Korea ||1 AUG 51|
|6th ||20 NOV 50 ||7th Army ||Kitzingen, |
|1 DEC 51|
|7th ||20 NOV 50 ||Ranger Tng Cmd ||Ft. Benning, GA ||5 NOV 51|
|8th ||20 NOV 50 ||24 ID/IX Corps ||Korea ||1 AUG 51 |
|9th ||5 JAN 51 ||3rd Army ||Ft. Benning, GA ||5 NOV 51|
|10th ||5 JAN 51 ||45 ID ||Camp Polk, LA ||15 OCT 51|
|11th ||5 JAN 51 ||40 ID ||Camp Cook, CA ||21 SEP 51|
|12th ||1 FEB 51 ||5th Army ||Camp Atterbury, IN ||27 OCT 51|
|13th ||1 FEB 51 ||2nd Army ||Camp Pickett, VA ||15 OCT 51|
|14th ||1 FEB 51 ||4 ID ||Camp Carson, CO ||27 OCT 51|
|15th ||1 FEB 51 ||3rd Army ||Ft. Benning, GA ||5 NOV 51|
All Ranger history content © JD Lock. Used with permission.