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October 12, 2015

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COL Ronald Shackleton U. S. Army (Ret) (1952-1982)

by dianeshort2014

View the service Reflections of U.S. Army Soldier:

shakletonCOL Ronald Shackleton

U. S. Army (Ret)

(1952-1982)

Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/247536

(Veterans – record and share your own service story with friends and family by joining www.togetherweserved.com. This is a free service)

PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?

My decision to join the military was formulated as a teenager as WWII was raging. I was old enough to understand that many of my friends and neighbors had fathers and brothers serving in the Armed Forces. My father who at age fifteen served in the British Army in WWI was too old but I had three uncles which made this personal to me.

The many gold star pennants hanging in the many homes of those serving further amplified this; and those framed black for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice were too many. This would have a lasting effect on what I thought “patriotism” to be regardless that these men were mostly drafted.

When I attended Oklahoma State on a football scholarship I immediately enrolled in the Army ROTC program. I was designated a distinguished Military Graduate (DMG) and offered a Regular Army commission upon graduation in 1952. I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant Infantry.

Photo was taken when I first arrived at Ft. Benning Georgia.

WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.

When I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in May 1952 I was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, Ft Dix, NJ with orders to the Korean Replacement Center in Seoul, Korea, with a reporting date in January 1953 with TDY en route to the Infantry School, Ft Benning, GA to attend the four month Officers Basic Infantry Course starting in September. Upon arrival I married Lois in the Post Chapel.

Until now I had no particular ambitions but was merely following the course the Department of Army Infantry Branch had laid out for me. But that would soon change.

About two months into school a fellow student, Lt. Reid, asked if anyone was interested in volunteering for parachute training? I thought who is this guy but re-actively raised my hand as did about eight other guys with little hope that this would be approved. After all we were all on orders to Korea where officers, especially Second Lieutenants, were in short supply.

Little did I know at the time that Lt. Reid’s father worked in the Officers Branch in the Pentagon and just prior to graduation my orders were changed to the 82nd Airborne Div with TDY to attend “Jump School” while at Ft. Benning.

The Airborne is an elite force which earned its battle indoctrination during WWII. The heroics of the 11th, 17th, 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions are renowned. They fought in Europe, Africa and the Pacific; while the 187th Airborne Regiment fought in Korea. This is when I realized that this type of duty was for me.

In January 1953 I headed for Fayetteville, N.C. and Ft Bragg. For the next year I would experience that which was expected of a Platoon Leader of an airborne unit.

Since this was my first troop unit assignment I had nothing to compare it with. The moral, esprit, the gung-ho attitude and yes the elated-ness of being a “paratrooper” further convinced me that this is where I wanted to be and that I would strive for such assignments in the future.

In January 1954 I was assigned as XO, Company B, 1st Bn, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, Korea; and then CO, Company L, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. During this period hostilities had been suspended pending peace negotiations. Due to hostilities in Vietnam my 12 month tour was extended to 16 months.

In July 1955 I was devastated when I received orders to ROTC duty at Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA. I tried feverishly to have my orders changed to a line unit but to no avail.

In 1957 I was surprised that while on ROTC duty my application to attend Ranger School at Ft. Benning during the summer recess period was approved; and once again my spirits were lifted.

Like the Airborne the Rangers have a storied history dating back to the French and Indian War where Roger’s Rangers aided the British in defeating the French. Rogers also joined the British to fight against our forefathers, the American “rebels.”

Morgan’s Riflemen and Marion’s Partisans inflicted heavy casualties among the British during the Revolutionary War.

Morgan’s Rangers and Mosby’s Rangers fought for the South during the Civil War bringing havoc among Union forces.

During WWII Darby’s Rangers operating in Europe and Merrill’s Marauders operating in the Pacific contributed many daring and courageous exploits that have become an important part of American history.

I wanted to be a part of expanding this legacy if given the opportunity.

I graduated from Ranger school in August and was awarded the prestigious black on gold Ranger Tab. I was further designated the “Distinguished Graduate.” From what I learned in Ranger school I concluded that as a green lieutenant, I would never have survived combat in Korea without it.

In September 1958 I received orders to attend the Infantry Advanced Course and once again back to Ft. Benning. I was also promoted to Captain. My daughter Jana was born shortly after arrival.

While in school I became friends with a fellow student, John Keefe, who mentioned his assignment in the 77th Special Forces Group at Ft Bragg; and that there was the 10th SFG in Germany.

This was the first I heard of these units (first established in 1952) but the mere title had my adrenalin in high gear. I asked if he thought I would qualify for acceptance. With jump wings and Ranger Tab on my uniform he didn’t see why not. He asked if I spoke a foreign language but if I didn’t that wasn’t a disqualification in itself; but being accepted was very demanding.

Since I was a Captain, airborne qualified, ranger qualified, Prefix 5 CBR qualified, commanded an Infantry Company in Korea and soon to be a graduate of the Infantry Advanced Course with a Top Secret clearance I thought I was well suited to apply for Special Forces.

Not so fast! In 1959 I was simply rejected as “not qualified” without any further explanation; and placed on orders to take command of Co B, 54th AIB, Ft Knox, KY. However, I would not be deterred and decided to make Special Forces my goal.

My first initiative was to take the Language Aptitude Test which I passed. I then was tested and received the Expert Infantry Badge (EIB), I resubmitted my request for SF and once again was denied as “not qualified” w/o further explanation.

In Feb 1960 I attended the USA Cold Weather and Mountain School at Ft Greely, Alaska and upon graduation resubmitted my request for SF and once again “not qualified” w/o further explanation.

In May I attended the Jungle Operations Course at Ft Sherman, Panama and graduated with the designation of “Jungle Expert.” I resubmitted my request but was again denied as being “not qualified” w/o further explanation.

I had basically given up when In April 1961 an article appeared in the Army Times seeking combat arms Captains for assignment to SF. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had been applying for over three years w/o success and now this.

I resubmitted my request citing the Army Times and was quickly assigned to the 1st SF Group, Okinawa with TDY to the JFKSWC, Ft Bragg to attend the Special Forces Officers Course. I graduated with the designation of Prefix 3. I had finally arrived.

In 1962 I led my A Detachment on my first SF deployment on a covert mission in Vietnam for the CIA; in 1969 I was CO of the C-Detachment (Battalion) in I Corps (Danang) Vietnam. I was a student at the National War College when in Apr 1972 I was contacted by the Colonel’s Division that I was requested by name to assume command of the 7th Special Forces Group upon graduation. I immediately accepted when I was counseled that this might not be the right course for my career advancement but I did not back off.

I now understood why my previous requests were denied.

In between these assignments I graduated from C&GSC; served on the Presidents National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA); commanded the 1st Bn, 3d Infantry at West Point; served with the 4th Armored Div, Germany; graduated from the National War College; and served as the XVIII Airborne Corps G1.

My last assignment from where I retired in 1982 was Deputy Commandant Defense Institute if Security Assistance (DISAM), Wright Patterson AFB, OH.

IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT, PEACEKEEPING OR HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.

With seven of my NCO’s from my A-Detachment (A-113) we reported in civilian clothes TDY to Vietnam in Feb 1962 to conduct a covert operation reporting to the CIA. This turned out to be as much a humanitarian as combat operation.

We initiated the first Counterinsurgency “pilot program” with the Rhade Tribe, the Montagnard (mountain people) in the Central Highlands. The CIA had chosen the Rhade tribe for their counterinsurgency experiment not only because of their strategic location on the high Annemese plateau bordering Laos and Cambodia, but because they were basically a neglected people, ill served by the Vietnamese, who treated them as savages.

Our mission was to arm, train and organize the Rhade tribesmen into an effective anti-guerrilla army. In addition to my team of eight army men, we had two civilians attached. Our new ten-bed medical center was managed by one of the civilian Area Assets and our medic where they performed minor operations and attended at the birth of five infants. They also treated a number of gunshot wounds.

I cannot emphasize enough how this was a team effort based upon trust, confidence in one another, respect and professionalism. It was a Detachment composed of men different in age, combat experience, skills, family status and personalities; formed during the rapid build-up of Special Forces fueled by the Vietnam situation in 1961.

As the Detachment Commander I had the most to prove: leadership; knowledge; training; experience, etc. My previous assignments and schooling was the most extensive and served me well for this assignment. However, it was the guidance and my reliance on Master Sgt. John Slover that provided me what no previous experience could equal.

During the time we spent with the Rhade until our departure in Aug. 1962 we participated in numerous ambushes, raids, village defense operations, recon patrols and the like. These were significant not because of any heroic action on our part but because it was the tribesmen who responded so well to our training that they never lost a battle; and that after six months of repeated attacks by as much as VC battalion sized units the VC was repelled.

In April the program was considered a success and expanded ten-fold. The entire Darlac Province was declared “Secure” in Dec 1962. I should note that Vietnam was not declared a Combat Zone until Aug. 18 1962 two weeks after our departure. Sadly, my replacement, Terry Cordell, was killed six weeks after replacing me.

This brings me to my conclusion. This Team epitomized what Special Forces, what the A-Det. what the Special Forces soldier prides itself in when given the opportunity to release it’s individuality, it’s independence, it’s self-confidence, it’s reliance on one another.

These Team members never placed their own self-interests above the good of the Team; there were neither jealousies nor competition but absolute teamwork; no one claimed territorial rights over their assigned function(s) but rather pitched in as necessary; every man looked out for one another which is notable when you consider the close quarters we lived in day in day out for six months.

I learned a great deal on my first Special Forces deployment not about leadership or command which I had performed in previous assignments but what really makes the Special Forces so special. He is not only a warrior but a humanitarian, a teacher who sets the example. I would carry on this learning experience when later in years I would have the good fortune to command a C-Det and a Special Forces Group.

In 1963 CBS aired a 30 minute video of mostly my operation entitled “The Hidden War in Vietnam” narrated by James Arness of the Gunsmoke TV series. Available on YouTube.

In Feb 1963 I was summoned to Washington to appear before a Congressional Appropriations Committee (CAC) to present the details as to how this program was conducted and in such a short period of time so successful. I had to give credit to the CIA for granting the Team complete operational freedom, decision making authority and unwavering support.

In 1969 I was again back in Vietnam as a SF Battalion Commander; and again working with the Montagnards who were manning ten base camps in I Corps along the Laos border from the DMZ south to Quang Tri. Although I participated in numerous engagements there was nothing heroic about my efforts.

What I prided was not the caliber of the SF soldier which I knew better than most was when the XXIV Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Zais, who frequently visited my compound, invited me (a Lt. Col.) to participate in the weekly Command and Staff briefings and make scheduled presentations along with the Division Commanders and Corps staff. What better way to show the flag, so to speak, when most didn’t understand, as did Gen Zais, the role SF played in Vietnam.

OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?

My assignments in Okinawa, Vietnam and Fort Bragg are my fondest because these were all Special Forces Command assignments from A-Detachment Commander to C-Detachment Commander to Group Commander and the unique challenges they provided. I was able to work with Special Forces units from Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea, Canada and Brazil; and with the CIA; and with Vietnamese Tribal Groups. In 1974 I made a parachute jump with Brazilian Airborne from a C-141.

If I had to choose a least favorite assignment it would be one in which I was not a troop commander. My ROTC assignment would fall into this category and yet there was an appreciation working with young cadets in a leadership capacity.

Or my assignment aboard President Johnson’s emergency command post aboard the USS Northampton, a heavy cruiser specially fitted with communications equipment able to communicate securely worldwide, providing the President’ an Emergency Command Post. Regardless of the intrigue of being copied on all White House, State and Defense communications it was a bore sailing up and down the Atlantic coast in an alert status day after day. In two years I briefed the President once when he and his full contingent came aboard for a two day exercise.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?

My varied assignments have etched in my mind many personal memories too numerous to mention and perhaps too far removed to remember many more. My first parachute jump; my first troop assignment in the 82nd Airborne Division;acceptance into Special Forces were a few.

That I always sought command which resulted in 13 years of command. I commanded an Airborne Rifle Platoon; two Infantry Companies; an Armored Rifle Company; an Armored Engineer Company; A SF A-Det; an Infantry battalion; A SF Bn; A SF Group; and was a Deputy Commandant of a DOD school in that order.

In between I served as a G-4 (Logistics); G-2 (Intelligence); a G-3 (Operations); and G-1 (Personnel).

These assignments provided me the opportunity to visit over 85 foreign countries – to be exposed to the many different cultures, historic lands and memorable populations – always feeling proud and fortunate that I was an American.

IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.

I was awarded the SS, DFC, five BS’s w/v and five Air Medal w/v; and the Purple Heart. Presenting me with the DFC and LOM in August 1970 is Col. Healy, 5th SFG Commander.

When I received the awards (sometime months or even years after the action) and read the citations I was not aware of anything I had done that warranted some of these; nor who made the recommendations.

All of these were earned during my two SF tours in Vietnam. Since most of my combat activity was conducted covertly, clandestinely or in isolation may have a bearing on the above.

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?

The Jump Wings, Ranger Tab. EIB, SF Patch, Jungle Expert Patch and the Ski Patch were the most meaningful because they all required exceptional mental and physical endurance under the most stressful and hardship conditions.

Being designated the “Distinguished Graduate” of my Ranger Class was a bonus.

WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?

Colonel Gilbert Layton who as the CIA operative I reported to in conducting the covert operation with the montagnards in Vietnam in 1962. The faith, support and guidance he provide me; and his long standing Special Operations experience he imparted on me on this my first SF deployment was an invaluable education for me.

Maj. Gen. Michael D. Healy who to me was the epitome of a Special Forces soldier. As the 5th Special Forces Group Commander, Vietnam in 1969 he selected me to command one of his battalions. During this period I gleaned a volume of knowledge from probably the most experienced SF officer at the time; and later as the CG, JFK Special Warfare Center, We became close friends and remain so today. I owe him much for whatever successes I achieved.

It was General Healy who placed by new colonel rank with the help of my wife Lois.

Lt. Gen. William Yarborough for his encouragement and support during my early years in SF; and who after visiting me in Vietnam in 1962 encouraged me to place my experience with the Montagnards into a written document which I subsequently did. Since his assignment as CG, USAJFKSWC in 1961 he continued as a SF advocate throughout the remainder of his service and thereafter.

CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?

When I was in Korea on a cold winter night I was awakened by a sentry shouting, “Who goes there”? “Battalion Commander” was the reply. “Blue” was the challenge but when the Battalion Commander couldn’t remember the password, I heard the click of a round entering the rifle chamber. I immediately slipped into my boots and parka and moved quickly to the sentry post where I saw the Battalion Commander in his long johns and unlaced boots squatting firmly on his hands in the deep snow. I responded with the Password and vouched for the Battalion Commander who abruptly sprung to his feet and without a word returned to his quarters. He never did use the latrine!

Also in Korea, my company had constructed the only enclosed and heated latrine in the battalion area. We had to post a latrine guard on it to keep outsiders from using it. One freezing morning I heard shouts “Lieutenant Shackleton, Lieutenant Shackleton”! It was the Battalion Commander summoning me. I approached and saluted and as we stood on a cement tent platform he lit into me with no explanation as to what irritated him only repeating over and over that he was the Battalion Commander. He then kicked the snow only to stub his toe on a nailed down 2X4 and hastily limped away.

He had come to use the latrine when the latrine guard informed him that the latrine was off limits but before he could finish the Battalion Commander stormed into the latrine and sat on the commode to do his business. Within a short time he came running out of the latrine holding up his trousers as he called for me.

Between 0800 – 0900 the latrine was cleaned and the feces pit set afire with gasoline for sanitary reasons. Unfortunately the flames and smoke didn’t erupt until the Battalion Commander had seated himself.

You know the rest.

WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?

When I retired in Jan 1982 I accepted a position as Director of International Operations at LTV Missiles and Defense, a contractor in the Dallas area. Our primary weapons system was the Multiple Launched Rocket System (MLRS) which was just entering the U.S. Army inventory. We would begin marketing to overseas customers.

In 1989 I was reassigned as the Director of International Business, Vought Aircraft Division.

During this assignment I again traveled extensively throughout the world and added another 30 country’s to my previous list.

I retired in Sep 1993 and so remain.

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

I am a member of the Special Forces Decade Association; the Oklahoma State “O Club” and inducted into the “Newark New Jersey Athletic Hall of Fame.”

I have not lately been physically active in any of these organizations but I do maintain current through the internet with web sites such as “Together We Served,” “Professional Soldiers,” a Special Forces web site and the “Oklahoma State” web site.

I maintain contact by phone or E-mail with those with whom I served where most of the time we reminisce fondly about the past; or bitch about the current direction of this country!

Unfortunately there are not many of us left.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?

My life was influenced by my father as I grew up and served as the approach I took throughout my military career.

My father stressed hard work, set goals and strive to achieve them, innovation, and independent-thinking and to never forget there is always someone better than you whether in athletics, the work place or whatever and to recognize this as your motivation to do better.

My military career further stressed the importance of teamwork, leadership, setting the example, accept criticism, learn from your mistakes and to consider the needs of your troops.

BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE ARMY?

Today’s Army has changed so dramatically since my service that I might not have much to offer in this regard; nor could I manage the many technological advances that have been made.

However, the traits that I have previously stated that saw me through are as relevant today as they were then. “Duty, Honor, Country” the West Point motto might be a good start.

Remember that no matter what you do as a soldier, you are representing the Army and the United States; particularly when assigned in other countries or with foreign troops. Your personal behavior, demonstrated skills and general demeanor will be strongly tested and severely scrutinized,

I guess the following ditty I wrote many years ago probably reflects in verse the best example I could offer.

A Fighting Contradiction

He is Airborne he is Ranger and he’s Special Forces trained
A soldier who’s a special kinda guy
Mostly under cover a fighter like no other
For his country he will either do or die

In his camouflage fatigues and his paratrooper boots
Upon his head there sits a Green Beret
Mostly under cover a fighter like no other
A credit to the good old USA

Refrain:
He’s a leader he’s a teacher, partly patron partly preacher
To the oppressed their only living hope
They trust him like a father love him as a brother
With any situation he will cope

When his training is completed on a mission he’ll be sent
To work among the troubled and distraught
Mostly undercover a fighter like no other
He puts in practice all that he’s been taught

While we know his storied background we know of little else
Of where he is and what he might be up to
Mostly under cover a fighter like no other
We would cringe if we ever really knew

Refrain:
He’s a leader he’s a teacher, partly patron partly preacher
To the oppressed their only living hope
They trust him like a father love him as a brother
With any situation he will cope

When his mission is completed and he is safely home
Distraught of the comrades left behind
Mostly undercover a fighter like no other
A better soldier you will never find

He has served his tours of duty and he did what he was asked
He hopes his country knows he did his part
Not a hero nor a savior but a fighter like no other
He simply served his country with his heart

Refrain:
He’s a leader he’s a teacher, partly patron partly preacher
To the oppressed their only living hope
They trust him like a father love him as a brother
With any situation he will cope

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.

It has been great in locating comrades and keeping up with their whereabouts.

“Till Called Again”

I’ve lift my glass and drank my share
Of the wine that’s known as pride
And walked among some gallant men
And matched them stride for stride

I’ve crammed my mind with devious ways
To defeat the enemy’s goal
And kept inside for loyalty’s sake
The tales that can’t be told

The need is gone for my service now
I’ll hang up my ‘Green Beret’
And slip no more the wine of pride Till called again someday
–P. N. White

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Michael Dale Edleston
    Nov 13 2015

    You are all my hero’s !! I was born at Ft Bragg Feb 10th 1959, my father (Robert W Edleston) was in WWII, Korea and did something in Vietnam (not sure) He joined the Army in 1941 I believe. Never talked to him much about his time but I was always proud of who my father was. still have some of his stuff, even have movies of drops when he was teaching how to drop artillery etc…Got one photo (in pieces) of him in frozen Korea 1953….he passed in 1988 but I miss him everyday….Thank you all of you and (welcome home)

    Like

    Reply

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