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

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shakletonCOL Ronald Shackleton

U. S. Army (Ret)


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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.


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.

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