A Ranger Born tells the story of a man of arms.
Col. Robert Black, a highly decorated Korean and Vietnam War soldier wrote a book about his military adventures.
A Ranger Born is much more than an old soldier’s memoirs. It’s the story about an Airborne Ranger’s part in trying to win two wars on the battlefield and losing them in the minds and hearts of the American people, because the Washington politicians lacked resolve during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
Col. Robert Black, 75, of Port Charlotte, Fla. was a member of the U.S. Army’s 8th Airborne Ranger Company in Korea. In 1967 he served as a military advisor in Long An Province, South Vietnam, gateway to the Mekong Delta.
This is Black’s third book on war. He is also the author of Rangers in Korea and Rangers in World War II.
Because Black was a “mustang,” a soldier who began his military career as a private and completed it as an officer, he provides dual perspective about both of America’s lost wars.
A Ranger Born puts the reader in the shoes of a front-line sergeant. In addition, it gives the reader a clear view of war from a field commander’s vantage point.
Black was a Pennsylvania farm boy who grew up in the Great Depression. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, launching America into World War II, he was 12 years old.
“You couldn’t grow up in my age group and not be caught up in World War II. It was just a matter of what branch of the service you were going into,” he said.
By the time he joined the regular Army in 1949 he wanted to be a Ranger. But the Rangers of World War II had been disbanded. He ended up in the Paratroopers instead.
Black was in the service when the Korean War began in June 1950. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the supreme NATO commander in Korea, re-established a company of Rangers.
The Rangers are a strike force. They are exclusively American, beginning in the 1600s. Their raid and ambush tactics were taken from the Indians they fought.
Rangers in World War II spearheaded the invasion of North Africa and the D-Day Invasion at Omaha Beach and the 6th Ranger Battalion went behind enemy lines in the second World War. More recently, they captured airfields in the Granada and Panama campaigns.
The year Black joined the 8th Ranger Company at Fort Benning, Ga., after graduation from high school, he ended up in Korea. His unit, consisting of 107 men and five officers, was attached to the 24th Infantry Division.
“The 1st Marine Division was on our right and we were on the left. In the center was the 6th Republic of Korea (ROK) Division,” Black recalled. “It was April or May 1951 when the Chinese began their ‘Fifth Pass Offensive,’ the biggest military engagement of the war against us.
Hordes of Chinese troops attacked in strength against the 24th Division and the 1st Marine Division, but nothing seemed to be happening in the center where the ROK troops were suppose to be located. What the American units didn’t know was that the South Korean troops had “bugged out” on them.
Ninety members of the 8th Ranger Company were sent through enemy lines to find out what was happening along the ROK division’s front. They discovered the South Korean unit was gone and Chinese troops were swarming over the area like ants on an ant hill.
Black was a sergeant and a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifleman). This was a heavy, rapid-firing weapon carried by one man that provided considerable fire-power for a small unit.
“That night we camped on Hill 1010. The next morning when we woke and looked down from the hill we could see a river of brown-clad Chinese soldiers flowing by the bottom of our hill,” he said. “We were behind enemy lines and our only way out was to fight our way through the Chinese. Off in the distance, on the other side of the Chinese troops, we could see an American unit.”
The Rangers contacted the Americans they could see in the distance and told them what was happening with the enemy. In addition, they were able to convince the tank commander to rendezvous with them at a predetermined location and help them escape.
“We moved onto a razorback ridge known as Hill 628,” Black said. “We could see from our vantage point the Chinese were about to attack the Americans. So we didn’t have any choice but to attack the Chinese.”
The Rangers had to pull off a surprise frontal assault from their elevated position on Hill 628. As one platoon attacked the enemy lines, a second platoon provided concentrated covering fire on the Chinese troops.
The Rangers leapfrogged down the hill and shot their way through the enemy lines on their way to the tank unit and freedom below.
“As the BAR man, I was the rear guard. At one point I was holding back a flood of Chinese troops who were coming over the crest of a hill with my BAR,” he said. “We probably wouldn’t have made it, but a beautiful all-black Corsair (fighter plane) flew over and dropped a napalm bomb on the Chinese. That was the last of the enemy advance.”
What was left of the 8th Ranger Company reached the five waiting American tanks and climbed aboard for the ride back to friendly lines. By that time the Rangers had lost more than one-third of their men, killed or wounded. They brought them out, too.
Black would receive a Bronze Star medal for valor for the part he played in this behind-the-lines reconnaissance and battle.
By the time the Vietnam War heated up in 1967, Black was a major serving as the executive officer of the 3rd Brigade, 8th Division of the 7th Army in West Germany. He was transferred to Vietnam and wound up as the senior advisor in Rach Kien District, Long An Province south of Saigon.
“It was the greatest job I ever had in my life,” he recalled. “A poor province was like a county in this country. Long An had 30,000 to 50,000 civilians and not a single doctor; there were no paved roads, no potable water or electricity and a determined enemy.”
As military commander it was Black’s job to keep an eye on the American troops in the area. In addition, it was his job to try to improve the living conditions of the people in his district. Thanks to an executive officer, a world-class scrounger, Black was able to accomplish both jobs well.
By the time Black had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and was involved with a 300-man search-and-destroy mission in an enemy-controlled section of the province.
They ran into a North Vietnamese Battalion and fought the NVA to a standstill. Black tried to flank them with a portion of his troops. In the hoped for envelopment, he was counting on a South Vietnamese lieutenant and his squad of men. In the middle of the operation the colonel received word that his helicopter support was being redirected elsewhere.
“I was told to extract my men immediately. I started the extraction and we were down to 60 men when an American private ran up and said, the Vietnamese lieutenant had “bugged out” and left his men surrounded.
“You just don’t do that. So we had to take our 60 men and go rescue them. By the time we reached the four trapped men that were left alive, I don’t think we had 15 men with us, the rest were lagging behind,” he said.
They were able to withdraw and take the four soldiers who had been trapped by enemy fire with them. They had to leave behind the bodies of their dead comrades.
For the part Black play in this engagement and rescue, he received the Silver Star for heroism.
Looking back on Korea and Vietnam from the vantage point of decades, Black said, “In both cases, China was the key.
“At the time the peace negations started with the North Koreans, we were running the Chinese back to their country, but Stalin began making threats about dominating Europe. At that point, American leaders lost interest in Korea in a hurry.
“In Vietnam, the American Army could have rolled over North Vietnam in a month or two, but if we had done that, that would have put us right on the Chinese border. When that happened they would have gone to war with us.
“So we practiced the concept called ‘Limited War’ and had limited success in Korea and in Vietnam.”
What about the current situation in Iraq and the president’s plan to go to war?
“In my view, the administration hadn’t made the case about Iraq. We started out with al-Qaida being the enemy. The case has not been made that there is a connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Right now, North Korea is a far greater threat to America,” Black said.
“If another war comes to this country, we should support our soldiers. There should be no more Koreas or Vietnams, with people in the street objecting to the war once it starts.
“If the people don’t like President Bush’s position on the war then they should throw him out when the next election comes. Don’t take it out on the troops.”
Headquarters United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
5 September 1968
AWARD OF THE SILVER STAR
Black, Robert W., MAJ INF USA
Award: Silver Star
Date action: 12 June 1968
Theater: Republic of Vietnam
Reason: For gallantry in action: Major Black distinguished himself by gallantry in action of 12 June 1968 while serving as Senior Advisor, Ranch Kien District, Long An Province, Republic of Vietnam.
On that day, Major Black, serving as the senior United States advisor with the elements of Vietnam’s Regional and Popular Forces, was air lifted by helicopter into an area occupied by a large enemy force. The three elements were initially pinned down by intense and accurate enemy fire form a bunker complex.
Major Black immediately called in accurate air and artillery fire and advised his counterpart to attempt a flanking movement. When that movement caused an increase in enemy fire and the element was again pinned down, Major Black rapidly organized a small covering force and provided accurate fire which allowed the element to disengage. He then readjusted the supporting fire. And crawled forward under enemy fire to carry a wounded Vietnam soldier to safety.
With complete disregard for his own safety, Major Black returned to the forward edge of the area under fire in an attempt to located missing troops. His unflinching courage and deep concern served as inspiration for his comrades, who crawled through the rice paddies and braved heavy enemy fire to fellow his example. As a result, two of the missing were found alive and returned to the evacuation area. Once again Major Black exposed himself to the enemy fire to direct a final air strike on the enemy position which had divesting results Major Black’s conspicuous gallantry in action was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United Stated Army and reflects great credit upon himself and the military service.
Authority: By direction of the President under the provisions of the Act of Congress, approved 9 July 1918.
FOR THE COMMANDER:
OFFICIAL: CHARLES A. CORCORAN
Major General, USA
Chief of Staff
Name: Robert W. Black
Hometown: Carlisle, Pa.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1947
Unit: Infantry, Airborne Ranger
Commendations: Silver Star, three awards Bronze stars for Valor, Air Medal, Legion of Merit, two awards Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation, Army Commendation Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, Vietnam Cross of Honor.
Married: Carol Kirchner
Children: Leslie Black, April and Scott Croft, Karen and Mark Stansbury, Lauren and Larry Smerling
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida and is republished with permission.
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