Ranger School Class 4-58 return to post for first reunion
Sgt. Lenwood Stewart, a Soldier with the Ranger Training Brigade, talks with retired Lt. Col. John Hort, a graduate of the RTB's Class 4 in 1958. Stewart displayed an M-4 carbine rifle and an anti-tank weapon for audience members after the demonstration Friday.

FORT BENNING, Ga. -- "It certainly brings us back," said retired Maj. Roger Messick, who coordinated the first reunion for Ranger veterans who graduated 51 years ago from the Ranger Training Brigade.

"We sit there and we see these young guys and (wonder) did we do that' Did we look that good' We thought we were the roughest people in the world at the time, but these guys, they make us proud. I see them and I just feel very, very proud - and humbled."

Of more than 200 Ranger students who joined the RTB's Class 4 in 1958, only 129 graduated. Of those, 35 made it to the class's reunion.

Coinciding with the month of their graduation, the veterans' visit took them to the Ranger Memorial, 4th Ranger Training Battalion headquarters, the National Infantry Museum and the Rangers in Action demonstration.

"The demonstration was everything I expected it to be and more," said Ranger veteran Neil Gibson, after watching the Rangers Friday on Hurley Hill.

"I thought the rappel work off the tower was excellent. The hand-to-hand combat was the most realistic I have seen. (And) that was an extraordinary example of helicopter hovering," he said. "They still have a very disciplined and obviously a very committed group. They were able to give their energy, their enthusiasm and their physical response to the demands of the training. I was impressed."

Much has changed in the years that separate 2009 from 1958, but the tradition of overcoming hardship and challenges remains the same, Gibson said.

Sgt. 1st Class Russell Burke, who graduated from Ranger School in 1995 and now works with the Ranger Training Brigade, said he enjoyed meeting the Ranger veterans.

"These are the guys I look up to," he said. "When you're talking with the veterans like that, you're actually being a part of history ... hearing what it was they did, what they went through, and how your experiences are in some ways the same and in many ways different."

One of the most notable differences is the modern equipment available to today's Rangers, Messick said.

"That rubber boat down there is gorgeous," said Messick, referring to the Zodiac, a rigid-hulled inflatable boat Rangers hauled ashore from Victory Pond. "Ours, we had to keep blowing bladders up to keep it afloat."

Despite the challenges - and often because of them, Messick said - Ranger School was a shared experience that brought veterans from as far away as California to attend the reunion.

"I have to say, I wore the Ranger Tab for 50 years and was proud as anything. I had wings of an aviator, but I was more proud of my Ranger Tab," he said. "It was a test of your fortitude as to whether you would make it through or not. We worked as a team. It was a great experience, and it set the pace for life. It certainly did for me. Obstacles after that didn't seem as insurmountable."

Because of the many obstacles Ranger students face as they try for their Ranger Tab, the camaraderie of those who make it is that much stronger, said retired Lt. Col. Ben Crosby.

"Ranger School is a very tough, a very different time," he said. We used to go on these horrible ... runs here at Fort Benning. We were running five miles, sometimes carrying a rifle, and you would just be saying, 'Don't quit. Don't quit. Don't quit. Die, but don't quit.' And that's what we got through. We all survived together."

Seeing his Ranger buddies again meant a lot to him, Crosby said.

"It does bring back a great deal of memories," he said. "It's great getting to see all these people who 51 years ago were all buddies and now are back here together. It's been a good, solid, emotional and fantastic experience."

Page last updated Fri October 30th, 2009 at 09:29