“When Men Don’t Panic”
2nd Ranger Infantry Company on Hill 581
The American infantry company moved up the slope of the hill, the company commander in the lead. When the captain reached the crest, he halted his unit. More than sixty enemy bodies lay scattered around the hilltop and down its forward slope. Several U.S. soldiers sat cleaning their weapons. Others lay sleeping in foxholes. The captain spoke to the troops, questioning them on the recently concluded battle. He saluted the soldiers, then turned and addressed his company. “Look around,” he said. “This is what happens to the enemy when men don’t panic.”1 With that, the company passed over the top of the hill and descended to take up their defensive positions. The hill was called 581. The defenders were the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company.
1 William Weathersbee, 2nd Ranger Infantry Company presentation recorded by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe, 18 April 2003, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD, USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC; Albert Cliette, 2nd Ranger Company, interview by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe, 3 October 2003, Fort Bragg, NC, USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC.
Six Ranger Infantry Companies fought in the Korean War. The 2nd Ranger Company (nicknamed the “Buffaloes”) was the only all-black company in what would soon be a totally integrated Army.2 As one of the first three Ranger companies to arrive in Korea in December 1950, they were initially attached to the 7th Infantry Division (7th ID). The 2nd Rangers fought in numerous battles including at Munsan-ni, where they parachuted in with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (ARCT) in March 1951. The subsequent weeks of combat and the injuries sustained in the winter weather took a toll and by April 1951, only 75 men remained from the original company strength of 122.3 On 24 April 1951 they were detached from the 187th and re-attached to the 7th Infantry Division. For the next three weeks, the majority of the company conducted combat patrols in front of the division while a small element acted as the training cadre for the black soldiers coming to the 7th ID as replacements.
2 Charles H. Briscoe, “The 2nd Ranger Infantry Company: “Buffaloes” in Korea 29 December 1950 to 19 May 1951,” Veritas: the Journal of Army Special Operations History, Vol 2, No. 1, 2006, 27-38; this article is reproduced in the current issue.
3 The Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) 7-87 of the Ranger Companies called for 5 officers and 107 enlisted men with the authorization to carry a 10% overstrength. Hence the 122 total.
First Lieutenant (1LT) Albert Cliette was the Third Platoon leader for the company. Of the replacements he said, “A lot of these guys were from support units and had not gone through infantry basic training.”4 Sergeant (SGT) Cleveland Valrey was the non-commissioned officer-in-charge (NCOIC) of the new soldiers. “We did not use a formal program of instruction. We used our experience. We gave them a lot of strenuous physical training, weapons firing, hand-to-hand combat and took them on patrols.”5 Of the several hundred replacements that came through the training program, they only kept ten. The rest were dispersed throughout the division.6 The Ranger cadre and their new replacements rejoined the rest of the 2nd Company on the Combat Outpost Line (COPL) during the second week of May.
4 Albert Cliette interview, 2nd Ranger Company, interview by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe, 3 October 2003, USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC. 3 October 2003.
5 Cleveland Valrey, 2nd Ranger Company, interview by Dr. Charles H. Briscoe, 16 December 2005, USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC.
6 Corporal William Weathersbee recalls that while on the troopship bringing him back to the United States, he was approached by a number of black 7th ID soldiers who thanked him for the training they received from the Rangers. See Charles H. Briscoe, “The 2nd Ranger Infantry Company: “Buffaloes” in Korea 29 December 1950 to 19 May 1951,” Veritas: the Journal of Army Special Operations History, Vol 2, No. 1, 2006, 37.
The Rangers aggressively patrolled in front of the division, often to a depth of three miles, to determine the location and disposition of the enemy. “We ran recon patrols in the forward area,” recalled 1LT Cliette. “We were north of the [Hongchon] river trying to find the Chinese and establish were the ROKs were.”7 The patrols took the Rangers onto Hill 581, the scene of the battle to come.
7 Cliette interview, 3 October 2003. ROKs was the term for Republic of Korea Army soldiers.