Ragin, William David Howsa1
They Served With Us

WILLIAM DAVID HOWSA RAGIN

“An American Hero” by Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, USA (Ret.)

1st Lt. David Ragin was my brother-in-law and my hero. He was killed in action (KIA) on Aug. 24, 1964 in a bloody battle along with three other brave American advisors serving with the Vietnamese 41st Ranger Battalion in Kien Hoa Province, 45 miles southwest of Saigon. The Rangers suffered more than 200 casualties during this violent ambush.

All four received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. In addition to Dave, the advisors included Capt. Byron Clark Stone, Capt. James Michael Coyle and Sgt. 1st Class Tom Ward.

Dave received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during this terrible one-hour and 40-minute battle, in which the Viet Cong conducted four major assaults on the Ranger positions. With aggressive courage during the firefight, he killed more than 30 enemy soldiers. He was last seen alive firing a machine gun while covering the withdrawal of his unit. Dave was 25 when he died in the service of his country. He was promoted to captain after his death.

No one was surprised at Dave’s courageous death. He was a senior-ranking cadet at The Citadel, class of 1961. He graduated from Palatka (Florida) High School in 1957 as a very popular and respected student who was a superb athlete and the captain of the football team. The National Guard Armory was named in his honor after his death.

Dave married my sister in 1961 following his graduation from The Citadel. He completed Ranger School and Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Ga. Dave then served with great distinction as an infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Ky. He was given early command of a company and named best company commander in the division prior to volunteering for Vietnam duty.

Dave and my sister had two daughters. Beth has become an accomplished business woman.  Daughter Lisa Ann, whom he never saw, died 55 days after Dave was killed and was buried in his arms at Arlington National Cemetery. The officer who escorted Dave’s body home from combat was his dear friend and high school classmate, Capt. Henry A. Deutsch.  Henry returned to combat in Vietnam and was subsequently killed in action on May 11, 1965.

When Dave was killed, there had only been 189 other Americans KIA in the Republic of Vietnam. The loss of the entire advisory team to 41st Ranger Battalion was a great shock to the country and widely covered in the press at the time.  By 1968, we were suffering more than 1,200 killed in action each month.  By the end of the war, more than 58,000 brave service men and women had perished in Vietnam, and 304,000 were wounded during this longest American war.

Shortly before Dave deployed, he and I spent half the night talking. I was a cadet at West Point and had enormous respect for this dedicated and confident young officer. Dave was filled with enthusiasm and spirit. His dad had fought in World War II, and he wanted to join the long line of American patriots who had served to keep us free. His promising life was cut so short. All of us who knew and served with him are better because of his example of integrity, service and courage.

The caption under David Ragin’s picture in his high school yearbook is his enduring epitaph: “He is so good that no one can be a better man.”

WILLIAM DAVID HOWSA RAGIN is honored on Panel 1E, Row 62 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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They Served With Us

JACK RICHARD SUTTON and JAMES B. CANNINGTON JR.

“Two Outstanding and Heroic Marine Corporals” by Marshall N. Carter

When you serve your country and go into combat, regardless of service branch, you work with, lead and follow outstanding young men and women. This was true in Vietnam, just as it was in all prior American wars—and as it is today. Our young service members are just outstanding and always have been. It can be difficult to single out any one individual, but on occasion, there are those who deserve to be held out as lifelong examples for the rest of us.

In my case, having served for two years in Vietnam as a Marine Corps junior infantry officer, I had numerous occasions to observe many other Marines. Two stand out above all the rest: Cpl. Jack Sutton and Cpl. Jim Cannington.

Jack Sutton was 21 and an outstanding leader in combat. He was well known in the Harvey, Ill., area for his athletic prowess. At Thornton Township High School, Jack earned 12 letters in sports, was named Most Outstanding Player in football and was well-known for his wrestling ability, because he was 6 feet tall and weighed 285 pounds. He trimmed down to join the Marines in February 1966, arriving in Vietnam in late August of that year. He was wounded twice while leading his squad of 14 Marines. A young man with great leadership abilities, he routinely exposed himself to enemy fire to ensure the safety of his men and the accomplishment of their mission.

Jim Cannington, age 19, was born in Lennox, Ga., and grew up in Baltimore, Md. He loved the water and, at 17, was a certified rescue diver for the local fire department water rescue. Jim graduated from Patapsco Senior High School in 1965. He was an active member of the Baptist Church and intended on pursuing a Baptist ministry. He enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Jim arrived in Vietnam on Sept. 23, 1966 and volunteered for extremely dangerous duty, living with and training Vietnamese indigenous troops in the villages as part of the Combined Action Platoon (CAP) program. In the CAP program, U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen lived and worked with the Vietnamese to teach them better combat effectiveness and learn from them about the local area, people, customs and Viet Cong activity. It was a select program and extremely hazardous. When he came back to a rifle company, he continued to be an outstanding leader. We all learned quickly that to assign a job or combat mission to Jim was to ensure its completion.

Jack Sutton and Jim Cannington both came from large families and knew the value of teamwork, whether it be with their siblings or with others in combat. These traits were essential to their mission on Jan. 14, 1967.

The company was assigned to conduct a helicopter-borne raid into an enemy stronghold. Immediately upon debarking, they and their squads encountered fierce enemy fire. Both took charge, deployed their men and overcame enemy opposition, greatly aiding the company in taking the objective. On one occasion, Jim Cannington led his men down a dangerous jungle path into the enemy’s fortified position, while Jack Sutton singlehandedly held off a large enemy force with a machine gun while his men deployed around the enemy.

Both men performed in a manner that this country has expected of its combat leaders since the Revolutionary War. But unfortunately, on that day in that jungle village, they were both killed while leading. I was proud to serve with them and have remembered them every day since that fateful day in January 1967.

JACK RICHARD SUTTON is honored on Panel 14E, Row 30 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

JAMES B. CANNINGTON JR. is honored on Panel 14E, Row 26 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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thomas young
They Served with Us

Thomas Franklin Young

“Remembering Sgt. Tom Young, USMC” by Dale Dye

We were sitting in one of the huge old blimp hangars at the Marine Corps Air Facility, Santa Ana, Calif., in the late summer of 1967, contemplating orders to pack our trash and say our goodbyes. We were headed for Vietnam. Cpl. Tom Young said he thought he’d better submit his leave papers in a hurry and try to squeeze out 30 days with his family back in Arkansas. The anxiety over leave was perfectly understandable.  We all knew in those days when the war seemed to be simmering toward a boil, that pre-deployment leave might well be the last any of us saw of our loved ones. But, Tom was even more anxious to get to Vietnam and talked about leave as though it were just an expected step along the way to some momentous journey of discovery.

“Hemingway was right,” he once told me.  “War is man’s greatest adventure.”  He was the kind of guy who could say things like that without eliciting catcalls and harassment from his fellow Marines.

On a previous tour, I’d seen that elephant and heard that owl, as the saying goes, so I wasn’t as romantically inclined about my orders. But Tom was an irrepressible spirit who saw humor and excitement every time the sun rose to bring us another day.  I said I would cover our duties at the base and let him get on with it.

As Marine Corps Combat Correspondents, we could be assigned anywhere in-country where Marines operated, as well as in a few interesting billets that did not involve accompanying line units into combat.  I got orders to one of the line units, and Tom got assigned to an American Forces Vietnam Network (AFVN) radio and TV outlet in Hue.

I managed to visit him at that station, and he took me on a tour of the city to include a very interesting look at the ancient Citadel on the north side of the Perfume River. Tom seemed envious of my assignment involving regular combat operations vs. his, which pretty much kept him out of the action.  I volunteered to trade places, but Tom—by now a newly-minted sergeant of Marines—felt the experience would help him achieve his goal of studying broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri. It didn’t keep me from harassing him about a cushy rear-echelon job and reminding him of his reference to Hemingway’s infamous quote.

That meeting was in January 1968. There was no way for either of us to know what lay in store during the Tet Lunar New Year just a few weeks in the future.

When the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) staged its offensive during the country-wide Tet celebrations, Hue was one of their primary targets. Tom and the other civilians, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines assigned to the AFVN station were quickly under siege in the first days of the attack on the city.  They fought a gallant but hopeless battle with no real reaction plan and minimal firepower as the NVA pressed their attack.

After a gallant stand-off involving vicious firefights, the station was overrun. Six men were captured.  Five of them became long-term POWs in North Vietnam.  One was captured and then executed. Two were killed in the action—and one of those was my friend Sgt. Tom Young.

Later in the fighting to retake Hue, I was assigned to assault units and managed to get a close look at the battered and shattered AFVN station where I’d visited Tom prior to Tet. The evidence was clear: the NVA made a major effort to take the station, and the people resisting that effort had put up a hell of a fight to prevent it.  It was cold comfort for the loss of a friend, but it was obvious that Sgt. Tom Young had experienced man’s greatest adventure—and greatest tragedy.

THOMAS FRANKLIN YOUNG is honored on Panel 37E, Row 16 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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They Served with Us

Sharon Ann Lane

“The Only U.S. Military Woman KIA in Vietnam” by Janie Blankenship

Although seven other American female military nurses died while serving in Vietnam, Sharon Ann Lane was the only U.S. servicewoman killed as a direct result of enemy fire during the war.

On June 8, 1969, the 312th Evacuation Hospital was struck by a salvo of 122 mm rockets fired by the Viet Cong. One rocket struck between Wards 4A and 4B, killing two other Americans and wounding 27. Lane died instantly of fragmentation wounds to the chest. At 25 years old, she was buried with full military honors in Canton, Ohio.

Lane was born on July 7, 1943 in Zanesville, Ohio. Her family moved to Canton, where she attended high school.

She graduated from Aultman Hospital School of Nursing in Canton in 1965. Following two years of clinical practice as a general duty nurse, Lane entered the Army Nurse Corps in 1968.

After completing basic training at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas as a second lieutenant, she was assigned to the U.S. Army Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, Colo. After receiving a promotion to first lieutenant, she was placed in the cardiac division’s intensive care unit (ICU) and recovery room. Lane also volunteered to nurse the most critically injured American soldiers in the surgical ICU in her off-duty hours. She worked in the ICU until sent to Vietnam.

On April 26, 1969, Lane arrived at the 312th Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai. Although nursing in Ward 4 was challenging, Lane repeatedly declined transfer to another ward. She also volunteered to care for the most critically wounded GIs in the surgical ICU.

Posthumously, Lane was awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star with “V” device and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm.

In 1969, the Daughters of the American Revolution named Lane “Outstanding Nurse of the Year.” In 1970, the Recovery Room at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital was dedicated in her honor, and the Aultman Hospital erected a bronze statue of Lane in 1973. The names of 110 local servicemen killed in Vietnam are on the base of the statue.

In 1986, Aultman Hospital opened the Sharon Ann Lane Womens Center. Fort Hood, Texas, dedicated the Sharon Ann Lane Volunteer Center in 1995. The Sharon Ann Lane Foundation completed and dedicated the Sharon Ann Lane Foundation Clinic in Chu Lai in 2002.

SHARON ANN LANE is honored on Panel 23W, Row 112 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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They Served with Us

MURIEL STANLEY GROOMES

“Remembering Max” by Justin “Jerry” Martin

Over the last 42 years, I have been asked many times, “How can you be so close to guys you served with for only a year of your life?” For all combat veterans, I imagine the response is similar: “Unless you were there, you wouldn’t understand.”

For United States Marines, the term “brotherhood” means more than just the men you served with—it has a meaning that is defined by a legacy of over 230 years of service to our nation. “Brotherhood” evolved into a code of conduct and commitment to each other, mostly unwritten and unspoken, but ingrained in every recruit and officer candidate from their first day of training. It is sealed in the hardships endured by every generation of Marines that has come before and is expected of every generation that comes after. It is the basis for the silent bond that exists between all Marines.

I was inducted into that Brotherhood in the fall of 1967 and would meet the “brothers” with whom I would share the most memorable year of my life in May 1968. I was introduced as the new lieutenant and second platoon commander, and this was sufficient for acceptance into my new family. Two of us were joining the platoon as replacements that day: me and Pfc. Muriel Stanley Groomes—“Max,” as he preferred to be called.

Our platoon and their rifle company had only days before been battered by a numerically superior North Vietnamese infantry regiment for 48 hours of vicious assaults reminiscent of World War II and Korean War battles. A total of 57 Marines were killed or wounded in what became known as the battle for Foxtrot Ridge in the Khe Sanh area of I Corps Republic of Vietnam. It was into this Brotherhood of survivors that Max Groomes and I were thrust for our tour in-country.

Besides being new guys in the platoon, Max and I both came from the same area of the country: Max from Hampstead, Md., and me from Manassas, Va. There was only three years difference in our ages—he was 19 and I was 22—yet he referred to me respectfully as “Lieutenant” or “The Old Man” (with a smile) when I later became the company commander. I referred to him as “Little Brother” because our interpreter had told me that the Vietnamese word for an enlisted man was “anh em,” which means “little brother.”  It was appropriate; I was the big brother responsible for taking care of and watching out for him and my other men.

However, Max was not the typical Marine.  He was small in frame and, others later said, too kind and gentle in nature to be in combat. My recollections of Max are of a Marine who was always willing to do more than what was expected of him. On patrol, even when suffering from both malaria and active dysentery, he willingly shouldered another Marine’s heavy machine gun when that  Marine complained of not being able to make it. Max willingly shared the contents of his packages from home and gave away his rations of beer and cigarettes. He often volunteered to carry the platoon radio when others balked at the task, even though he realized this made him more of an enemy target than his job as a rifleman did.  He was selfless in nature, always willing to do his job without complaint and usually with a shy smile. Seldom did he speak of home except an occasional mention of older brothers, a fondness for Maryland seafood and a desire to get back to “the world,” our slang term for the United States. He was the quietest member of our small portion of the Brotherhood. There was no pretense or false bravado about him. Max listened more than he talked. His actions were more memorable than his conversations. He was just a damn good Marine.

As a combat leader, I learned to steel my emotions to the news of casualties in our unit.  However, shortly after I left the rifle company and was awaiting reassignment, I was notified that one of my men had been killed in action.  I ran to the landing zone to check on the casualties evacuated to the battalion aid station, and there was Max, his shattered remains wrapped in a poncho and guarded by the sergeant who had been wounded with him. Both men had absorbed the blast of a command-detonated claymore mine. One Marine had lived; the other had died.  Max had volunteered to carry the radio that day. Typical of Max, he had helped someone else and then made the ultimate sacrifice.

Muriel Stanley Groomes is an unsung American patriot. His name is but one of the many listed on what Vietnam veterans call our “hallowed ground”—the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. His service and sacrifice are anonymous, except for the posthumous Purple Heart awarded in his memory to his next of kin. His courage and life are remembered only by those who knew him.  His death was not heroic, but was selfless, like Max himself.

Max Groomes represents just one of the thousands who stand in silent witness to the devotion to duty displayed by a generation of Americans. When those who knew him are gone, who will speak for him?  I hope that, in my lifetime, a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Education Center will be built to honor those like Lance Cpl. Muriel Stanley Groomes.  Semper Fidelis, Max.

MURIEL STANLEY GROOMES is honored on Panel 39W, Row 8 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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They Served with Us

I Don't Remember his Name

“I Don’t Remember His Name” by Sara McVicker

 

The medical patients usually came in late afternoon. They’d send a chopper around to the firebases if anyone needed to come in to the hospital. Most would be an FUO (fever of unknown origin, which usually would turn out to be malaria or typhus), sometimes dysentery, occasionally pneumonia, and once or twice a cardiac case.

Unless they were so woozy they couldn’t stand up, we would get the blood samples we needed for diagnosis, let them shower, feed them and then let them sleep as much as possible around monitoring their temperatures and getting additional malaria smears. Most of them weren’t too sick—sick enough to be sent to the hospital, but not critical.

After diagnosis and treatment, they sometimes went straight back to the field, or if they were lucky, they got a week or so at the 6thConvalescent Center in Cam Rahn Bay.  That’s probably why I don’t remember names. I didn’t want to pick up a Stars and Stripes and see that someone we had sent back to the field had gotten killed.

One afternoon, a call came from the ER:  FUO, unconscious, temperature off the end of the thermometer. They did not have much history on the patient. He was out in the boonies with his unit and hadn’t felt good for a couple of days, but nothing specific. Then suddenly he collapsed, burning up to the touch. They threw him in a mud puddle to try to get his temperature down and called in a “dust off” (the helicopter that would take him to the hospital).

They brought him up from the ER on a stretcher, packed in bags of ice.  We got all the diagnostic tests, got another IV in him and a urinary catheter. Jim, our chief of medicine, was the doc. We started him on quinine in case he had malaria. We gave him something for typhus and something else for a bacterial infection. None of the tests showed anything in particular. We kept sponging him down and, between that and the aspirin suppositories, his temperature started coming down.

A little before 7 p.m., the night nurse and corpsman came in and saw what was going on.  I asked the nurse to handle the rest of the ward. I hadn’t done any 6:00 meds, but one of the corpsmen had done vital signs, kept an eye on the IVs, gotten everyone fed  and had told me everyone else was OK.  All the other patients knew what was going on.

Finally, we had done everything we could. His temperature had come down, and we had gotten him cleaned up.  I gave a report to the night nurse and then went back in the room to see if Jim needed me for anything else before I left.  No, he said, but he thought that he would stay for a while.

The next morning when I came back, Jim was still there.  He had stayed by this guy’s side all night, and he was there almost all that day, too, except for a few breaks. The patient was still unconscious but stable.

And then he began to slip away from us. It was nothing dramatic, just blood pressure gradually dropping, urine output decreasing. No heroics—there wasn’t anything else to be done.  And then, he was gone.

We never knew what killed him, whether it was whatever caused his fever or if it was because the fever was so high it “zapped” his brain.

I don’t remember his name or where he was from, but I know where he is now. His name is somewhere on the west Wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, panels 26-19.

He didn’t die alone.

And I remember him.

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