Rangers All the Way!
September 16, 2008
- Sergeant Major Horton S. Coker Oral History
- Short excerpts from an audio oral history narrated by SGM Coker.
International strategic threats can materialize at any moment. The eruption of the Korean War in June of 1950 posed such a threat. Responding to initial successes of enemy infiltration tactics that summer, Army Chief of Staff General J. Lawton Collins authorized the establishment of four companies of Airborne Rangers and selected Colonel John Gibson Van Houten to establish an Airborne Ranger Training Program at Fort Benning, Georgia. Although the U.S. Army had raised seven battalions of Rangers during World War II, along with the 1st Special Service Force and several Aca,!A"MarauderAca,!A? and OSS detachments, these highly trained specialized groups were disbanded after the cessation of hostilities.
The Ranger training program that was envisioned by Colonel Van Houten would combine the best of the lessons learned of training, doctrine and equipment from the various elite forces that had existed in World War II. Van Houten and a small staff worked quickly to assemble the finest experienced men still in service who had seen action in former elite forces, including several hand-picked individuals who had served in either allied or former adversary commando type organizations and who were now serving as United States citizens in the U.S. Army.
This select cadre of career Army officers and NCOs turned a disused, secluded portion of the barracks at Fort Benning, Georgia, into an advanced training camp in just five days. Working around the clock, from September 15 to September 20, when the first Ranger volunteers arrived, the Ranger Training Command created a tough, realistic training environment which included extreme physical training, live-fire exercises, and advanced field problems executed in all weather and terrain conditions day or night.
Along with amphibious training, the new organization would be airborne qualified. Colonel Van Houten made airborne status mandatory for each Ranger and did not exempt himself or the training cadre. Advanced infiltration techniques formed the core of the Benning program, including intelligence gathering, foreign weapons mastery, strongpoint demolition, escape and evade procedures, foreign map reading, and language skills. Learning such techniques made the units capable of the most extreme operations behind enemy lines.
The 1st Ranger Company, numbering 112 men, entered into combat in Korea on December 17, 1950, as an attached element of the 2nd Infantry Division and quickly proved itself by destroying the headquarters of 12th North Korean Division nine miles behind enemy lines. More units from Fort Benning rapidly followed and engaged in a variety of special missions and daring actions, including a combat jump into Munsan-Ni by the 2nd and 4th Ranger Companies, followed by an amphibious assault on the Hwachon Dam by elements of the 4th, and a legendary Aca,!A"no- manAca,!a,,cs-landAca,!A? battle which pitted 33 men of the 8th Ranger Company against two Chinese reconnaissance units in front of the U.S. 24th Infantry Division.
Despite such impressive service, the U.S. Army inactivated the six Ranger companies in Korea in August, 1951. The following month, the Army inactivated the remaining nine Ranger companies and disbanded the Ranger Training Command. Thereafter Ranger training would be provided through a Ranger Department of the Infantry School at Fort Benning. The trainees, however, would no longer serve in distinct Ranger companies but would return to their parent organizations.
The War in Vietnam would once again see the use of Ranger companies, but it was not until 1974 that the U.S. Army authorized its first permanent peace-time Ranger unit by General Order 127, creating the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 75th U.S. Infantry. Rangers of the 75th have subsequently been called upon to rapidly deploy in various operations around the world right up to the present day.
As a point of interest and Ranger pride, photographic evidence documents the Rangers training at Ft. Benning in 1950 wearing patrol caps with the brims removed, anticipating the Ranger beret, which has become an internationally recognized symbol of these elite forces. The Korean Airborne Rangers were truly Rangers -- Rangers all the way!