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Interview with Ronald E. Ray [n.d.]

Unknown interviewer:

Pronounce your name.

Ronald E. Ray:

Ronald Eric Ray.

Unknown interviewer:

Ronald - would prefer Ron or Ronald?

Ronald E. Ray:

Ron. I go by Ron. Yeah.

Unknown interviewer:

Ron. Ron, tell me a little about your childhood - how you were brought up - family life - school.

Ronald E. Ray:

Well, I had a-- I think a very interesting life when I was young. I was born into a family - a large family overall - when we finally - finally ended up with-- 7 kids - 5 boys and 2 girls. We were - was born on a little farm in Georgia - Cordell [sp?], Georgia, and-- it's back at the - things are a little bit tough in those days in the - in the mid-40s and so my parents-- oh, in the - we moved around quite a bit for the first couple years - moving from one farm to another, being in Cordeel [sp?] for a couple years and then over a place called Ashburn and then a little town called Bethlehem, Georgia, was the last place I lived in Georgia. And then when I was about 5 or 6 years old, my father decided to give up on farming - it was really bad-- not much money coming it - it wasn't a great life, and he had-- at that time about 4 children, so he decided to go to Florida to seek his fortune, so he left us in Georgia for about a - a year and went to Florida and became a-- working on a citrus farm-- in Georg-- in Florida - and sent for us, and we moved to a little place called Lake Alfred, Florida. We call it L.A. because it was a-- a way of saying we were Big L. A. And-- I moved there when I was about 6 years old - first grade. We lived there-- stayed in Florida the-- until I was a-- a senior in high school - when I left home-- on my own and went back to Georgia, believe it or not - but childhood was-- interesting in the fact that we were what they call today migrant farm workers. We worked in the citrus harvest in Florida--during the winter-- then we left-- around--May and moved to Indiana where we picked strawberries in Indiana, and then we moved to Michigan where we picked strawberries and then-- blueberries and-- right on - every -this is the harvest type stuff that we did. And then finally did some tra-- some cherries in Travis city, then back to Georgia - picked cotton for about a month or two and then back into Florida. And we did that for a number of years when I was a kid. Lot of people thought that was a very - very strenuous life for a - for kids, but it taught me a lot of values. It-- my mother and father were hard-working--she taught us - my mother more than my father - that hard work wasn't that bad and on top of that if - hard work - if it can pro--produce rewards for you over time - if you just work hard. And-- kind of a funny thing in my life - my first leadership position when I was 14 years old is I was a field foreman on a blueberry farm in Michigan - I had 200 field hands working for me when I was 14 and a half. So it's-- I look back on it and talking to my mother actually yesterday just before coming up here and-- she always begrudges the fact that we had to travel like that and do all the work we did, and I-- I hug and kiss her and say - it's probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my life, was the fact that--I learned at a very early age-- to-- work with people - to understand that-- a good day's work - there's nothing bad, wrong with it. And-- basically it's-- stand me in good stead and every time I get in trouble in finances to these, or something goes wrong in the Stock Market if I'm involved in it and some of the companies that I've been working for and running over the last few years - when things get bad I understand that I can always fall back to what I know best and that's hard work. And so I have nothing but friendly and great things to think about that and the people I met along the way.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me a little about high school - did you -were you migrant workers during high school?

Ronald E. Ray:

Yes. We-- it was pretty tough in high school, because we'd come back into Florida after the school year'd start, and we'd have to pick up and catch up with the - with our class, and then-- we'd leave before the final exams - so-- a couple of - couple of years there I had to take final exams returning from the f-- year before and then have to go into the next year. So-- it, it was a - it was tough but very educational. It made you - I learned to cram early [LAUGHS] in life - I learned to - how to sit down and dedicate yourself over a couple -couple of evenings in order to pass certain exams, but-- did quite well. My mother was f-- quite proud of my grades, that I obtained while I was in school. And-- you know it was-- it was enlightening. I-- I look back on them - those days as-- some great times-- some hard times, yes. I mean when you get up in the morning at 4:30 and go to the field and work unti dark and--and then you'd go outside and play with the other kids because you didn't want to go to bed that early-- it, it-- we never looked on -upon ourselves as having it bad. Just kind of interesting experience. My brother and I went back up to Michigan-- a number of years ago, and after we had become -a little bit successful - I wouldn't say greatly successful - and a little kid come into the little country store there with his -his feet stained with blueberries and everything and he was trying to buy an ice cream. And so I felt, you know, compelled to turn and said - started to pull out 5 bucks I was going to give him 5 dollars to go buy something nice, and my brother stopped me - he said no, no, no - don't do that. You remember when we were that age and we were doing thing - we were so proud of the fact we'd earned that money so we could buy a popsicle on our own? Let him learn the values of life. And-- you know, I do terrible things other ways, but I think the - that was a good omen, and I think that I learned the value of hard work and money at those ages.

Unknown interviewer:

When you were going through those ages who most influenced your life - who do you look up to the most?

Ronald E. Ray:

My mother. My mother was a matriarch and still is to this day. My father was a hard working man - he'd come from a very large family of 11 - but-- he had some tough times with alcohol and other things back when he was young, and-- he-- had a great heart - but hi--his whole life was-- focused on making a living for - to raise his kids. My mother did all of it - she took care of -she worked in the fields with us - she-- did all the cooking and everything - she took care of the family and she was also the one you could set down at night and talk to, and she'd always give you save advice. And still does to this day.

Unknown interviewer:

When you graduated high school, what did you look forward to? What were your plans? What, what did you think your future would bring?

Ronald E. Ray:

Well, it's kind of interesting - when my father and I had a little falling out when I was-- a senior in high school - my first -actually my first month as a senior in Florida. So I decided to leave home, and I went to live with my uncle in fr-- in Georgia. So I went to a very small school. I left a sk-- a school of about 500 kids that was in high school - and went to a-- school where we had 21 in my graduating class. It was great odds - 16-- girls and 5 boys - so it was a-- it was a very good situation for me in that respect, but-- it, it was a -- so it really was a, a - a big decision to make once I - coming close to graduation from high school - what was I going to do with my life -and it was pretty simple. There was-- four of us kids - and - in college - and we all decided we were going to into military - and so 3 of us went into the Army and one went into Marine Corps right out of high school. So-- we - wasn't any-- there wasn't much out there, you know, you were in a little town in Georgia and you're just trying to decide what am I going to do with my life and-- a recruiting NCO came by and gave us this great vision of what we could do in the military with our lives, and we - boy, that was the thing to do. So we went off and joined the Army.

Unknown interviewer:

The whole class.

Ronald E. Ray:

Hal-- all but one - Benny-- Benny was a -Benny Moore was the only guy that didn't join the military. [LAUGHS]

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me a little about basic - what was that like?

Ronald E. Ray:

Basic was pretty simp-- pretty easy. I mean actually after coming from what I did-- basic was pretty simple for me - it's-- you know -had a great platoon sergeant-- that took care of me and taught me the ropes. I was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and--made it through fine. Enjoyed my t-- wasn't enjoyable if-- at the time, but I look back on it as a very good learning experience. Taught me discipline. How to-- how to work with a group again, but some of that stuff that came from my childhood, I s-- I think that when I got to basic training - basic training was very easy to me, because of-- my background and where I came from.

Unknown interviewer:

Was the war going on at the time you were in basic?

Ronald E. Ray:

No, this was back in '59 - 1959. So, no there was nothing-- I was - went into basic training in June of '59. So after that I graduated from basic, and then I did my first overseas tour - when I was - went to Germany and worked for the - worked with the 3rd Armored Division. Well, actually I went off to get a technical skill first which was radio repair at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I guess I was about 3 months learning a basic skill and then-- shipped off to Germany around Christmas of-- '59 - saw the first snow of my life in Germany [LAUGHS].

Unknown interviewer:

You must have liked the service cause you, you re-upped. Tell me why you liked it so much.

Ronald E. Ray:

Well, I, I really-- didn't - I don't know whether I liked the service so much - cause I decided - I didn't re-up right away. I got out - I came back and-- I got out of the service. In June of '62 if I'm remembering these dates - I mean it's-- not as accurate as it should be, probably. And I went back and lived with my grandmother there who was another great matriarch of mine-- for about 2 or 3 months, and I went to work for a-- company called Bluebird Body Company where they make school buses - probably still do if you notice the - all - most all your school buses are made at Fort Valley, Georgia - and my job was I got in - they had this assembly line coming along and-- and my job was putting windows in the bus. And I'll never forget it - I was doing these windows - doing these windows and I kept looking at what was going on and-- I was trying to - finally it's - went to my boss one day and said hey wait - we could really improve this if we did X - we don't need 3 guys doing the windows in one bus - we could -one guy can do this and we pop in the screws, and we can really-- go twice as fast. Well, that didn't go over too big with him. He decided that-- I kept looking at what was going on and-- thinking of improvements I could make in the Bluebird Body Company -nobody wanted to listen to a 20 year old guy just out of the military. And I got to thinking - hey - I, I had it made in the military in a lot of ways - a lot of people listened to me when I was a sergeant in the military. I mean that was pretty neat! So I decided I was going back - going back in the military and - but I was going to go back into a unique thing. So I volunteered to go back in to go to Special Forces. So I re-upped to go to Airborne School at Fort - Fort Benning, Georgia and then on to Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And-- I guess-- that's-- that's history I guess. I did real well in my - in school -got to - Fort Bragg and went in through the training group - did well - quite well in their schools - and was-- then they started a unique program - they just started the month I got there, and it was called-- They had a thing called Advance [sp?] Committee where they were doing HALO training - high altitude - low opening. They were doing scuba and they were doing a thing called sky hook where they-- you was in the ground, and they'd jerk you off the ground. Man, I looked at that and I said that's the thing I want to do in life - I want to be with that Advance Committee. So I did. I went over and volunteered for this new outfit and -kind of unique - I - the first HALO class ever - 1962 - I, I was the first chute ever issued in HALO and-- so it goes back, and I enjoyed it-- enjoyed Special Forces - so I stayed with Special Forces about 18 years. Got out of the training group - went to-- a battalion - at that time a company - is what we call a company in those days -- and worked for a g-- another great mentor of mine - a guy named Colonel Karavoree [sp?] and I guess that's history. I don't know whether you want to talk about that time, but-- basically - he would give me my big break in the military. I was a - I was an E-5 at the time - working on an A team - a Special Forces A team - and I never forget it - he called me in one day and everybody - he was - he was like God - he was - he was in the Finnish Underground during World War II - on the - I mean you - barrel-chested guy - one of the greatest - I mean you just - he was like - when he walked around, you was in awe of him - he was such a great leader. And-- he called me in one day and-- I went in front of him and he - his English was pretty broken - I'll never forget - I went in and reported to him - he said-- Ray you go OCS. I didn't know what OCS was. I said sir? He said You go OCS. See the - see the clerk. And it was a guy named Sergeant Krog was the clerk - every - lot of - lot of people had to put in their paperwork - I went out and had to sign a paper saying I was volunteering for OCS - cause that's the way he was - I, I was going to OCS. So I had to go through the panels, and so I left that unit-- and went off to OCS, and the unique thing about that - that was-- my goal then in life is one day I'm going to come back to that unit and command it like Colonel Karavoree - and believe it or not that was my f-- last job in the military - I went back and commanded that Special Forces battalion. And-- then I decided to get out of the Army -the Army couldn't understand that - I - but that was - I was a young-- Lieutenant Colonel at the time with less than 15 years as an officer-- they thought that I was going to stay in and try to move up through the ranks in the military. But that wasn't a goal of mine. My goal was to command the Special Forces un-- battalion and I did that and so - I thought there was other things to do in life then.

Unknown interviewer:

How was the training - Special Forces prepared you for going over to country.

Ronald E. Ray:

It was ver-- great training. I would say, if, if I look back on my life, what was the greatest training atmosphere that I ever was in was - would be the Special Forces training that I took and also Ranger School. Ranger School was another unique training event in my life. All those taught you certain things. That, that you stick with. The Ranger Code that they have today - you don't leave your troops behind - we always take our troops with us no matter what - we protect our troops. The creed - stood me in good stead when I was in combat. My ability to do certain things in combat--the weaponry - to understand it - to know how to use it - was all taught to me by Special Forces. Yes.

Unknown interviewer:

What was it like knowing when you were going over to country - when you were-- told that you were going to go over?

Ronald E. Ray:

Well I d-- I was a professional soldier. I believed that's where we belonged. I was - my first - I was in the 509th Airborne in Germany when things broke loose in, in 1965 - '66 time frame, so I put in a, a preference statement as an officer - you put in where you want to go - I put one thing on there - Vietnam - and I wrote it across and I sent it directly to my detailer. And I w-- got orders for Vietnam within a month. I believed that that's where the action was, and-- if you're going to be a professional soldier, and if a - if young soldiers are going to led in battle, they ought to be led in battle with people who understood how to fight - number one - and I under - I understood that, that troops are very valuable people and-- so I, I believed that that's where I belonged at that time.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me a little about your first combat experience over at country.

Ronald E. Ray:

Well, my first combat experience is-- number one, I was assigned to a Special Forces unit when I was left - CONUS - the United States -and flew into Camp Alpha in-- in Saigon. They changed me. They moved my orders; they d--they decided they needed some lieutenants to be pru-- platoon leaders up in the 25th Division. So I was changed from the-- from Special Forces, and they shipped me up to take over a platoon in, in the 25th Infantry Division. So my first time in battle was I landed at Pleiku-- and-- the unit that I was supposed to be with was out in - already out on a - an operation called Paul Revere 4, which were -they were setting up and protecting the Cambodian border. There was a big push the year before-- of North Vietnamese coming through the Cambodian border in the I Drang Valley area, and there was-- we were led to believe that there would be another large push that year - within the same time frame. And so my unit was deployed along the Cambodian border. So when I got to Pleiku - the - my u-- the platoon I was supposed to be with was already out-- outside in operation, so-- my first--day of combat was-- flying into a little company area - landing on a chopper and-- my first big mistake was seeing a - young man with blond hair and standing there as the chopper drawn - I run over to him and said young man can you tell me where the company commander is. He says I am the company commander. So I said that was a good start for me in my combat-- but it turned out [LAUGHS] different as the thing went on. I spent-- probably the first week - we did patrols and stuff with the company. Then after that, we decided to split the company into two - with the company commander taking a part of the company on one side of the-- I Drang River, in the lower part of the Chu Pong area, and me taking the other half of the company and moving it north up into the Chu Pong Ridge area - is my - where I put up my outpost. So that was, that was t-- let's see - that was about after about a, a week after I was there. [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] END SIDE A START SIDE B

Unknown interviewer:

And you realized that you were in charge of a platoon going into combat for the first time.

Ronald E. Ray:

Well, it's-- it, it's really an awesome responsibility for any individual - when you're entrusted with troops - human beings -that you have to lead into-- a situation which is the most ungodly thing that can happen to a human being, and that is combat. Any time that-- you as a human being are entrusted with other great people, and it is expected to go kill other human beings from another side -- it, it's an awesome responsibility. Do you have time to think about that when you're out there fighting your enemy and so forth? No. But when you set around at, at night, you think about those things. And so there's, there's a couple things happened to me during my time over there that would cause me to change my outlook on, on life and on, on - on war and on what's going on in the world -even - even today. And I'm not saying that-- you should never go to war. I think there are times that we have to protect ourselves against enemies. But--it, it really-- really is very few in a man's life - I, I think that there should be everyth-- every opportunity should be taken to solve a problem before you go into that, because-- it's the most inhumane thing that you can happen to an individual. And that's to be on the line and, and, and watch people die-- And-- what brought that to me is more than anything else was my first combat action after I took my platoon into Chu Pong-- we knew we were being probed by North Vietnamese, we knew they were there. We went out on patrol one day, and we - we, we-- we captured one guy and I had to shoot another one. And -- I'll never forget - when after I went went over and rolled his body over-- and started searching the body to see what was on it - was only one thing on his whole body -- and that was a little foldout--like a little billfold - and on one side of it was a picture of a y-- lady. And on the other side was a picture of a kid. And that to me brought back to me-- you know -what, what war is all about. I mean it's actually - and that's something we all have to think about as individuals in life - is the fact is war is an inhumane act. And it takes the lives of - the most precious asset - and that's our - that's our young. And so-- we as leaders in the free world, and across the world, have to be very careful about committing our troops, our sons and daughters into this situation. Now once committed, they have to - they have to go - they have to do it all - they have to be totally supported-- they have to understand that they will be supported by-- America -whomever they're fighting for - and that they'll be treated properly when they return. I think that-- we, we've seen what happened after Vietnam - we see what's going on in the world today. I'm just very hopeful that-- we don't for-- we don't - we separate-- the war from the individual. We have individuals fighting a war - they're doing what they think is right and what our country sent 'em to do. And they should be respected for that. But at the same time, all of us -- including our leaders -- should be looked for opportunity to solve the problems without human sacrifice.

Unknown interviewer:

I'm going to jump back to-- I really need to talk about the battle.

Ronald E. Ray:

Okay.

Unknown interviewer:

Describe to me in as much detail as you would like what took place that day and why you did what you did.

Ronald E. Ray:

Well, it's-- well it's kind of an interesting situation, and as I've told you we - it was on com-- an operation called Paul Revere 4 - and basically what we were trying to do is set listening posts and outposts along the Cambodian border to monitor the infiltration of North Vietnamese troops into the central highlands of Vietnam. And so I'd set up about 3 listening posts along my sector, and each day I would go out along that sector and re-- reconnoiter and see what was going on and move the listening posts and so forth, like that, and kind of like check to see if there was any - any new stuff going on. And after about the third or fourth day we discovered a number of large trails being cut within my sector, and I informed my company commander that I felt there w-- and we'd been probed about every day - picking up some people like I told you before - I, I had the suspicion, being an old country boy, that we were - that there was something going to happen in my sector and I kept telling the company commander who was in the lower part of the I Drang, and he was totally convinced no, it wasn't going to happen where I was at - it was going to happen where he was at - like it had the year before, in '65. However, about the f-- I guess it's about the 6th or 7th day that I was there, we encountered a major-- platoon moving into our area, and we had a little scrimmage at that time, killing a few people and that sort of thing. I again reported back that I thought that this is just a lead element - that something was coming into our area. Again, nobody believed they were going to come through the-- that part of the, the Chu Pong. So what I did do though - I did - I had two men-- two-- two or 3 people in each one of those listening posts -- I beefed up one listening post where the big trails were being cut and along the stream bed and trail crossings. And I sent out a patrol that went along that area, and I told the patrol to stay there with that listening post that day. I just felt something was going to happen. And sure enough - they - that out-- that outpost got surrounded, and-- cut off from, from my unit. I had another back in the little base camp that I had set up where we moved regularly - we had about-- 35 or 40 - we had some mortar platoon and mortar equipment, that sort of thing, and-- out on each one of those sectors we had about 3 or 4 people plus that squad that I had moved out in that one area up on - about - what we called Hill 2 7 5. And-- that's the one that got hit. And naturally what I told - what I was trying to tell my troops to do - what I want you to do -when they hit - cause I really believed they were - I want you to-- break contact as fast as you can - move back toward my location and I'll cover your withdrawal - cause I thought they were coming. And-- what had happened is-- they got a little - little nervous - when - and, and the radio operator that was with that team was hit -right in the initial attack. They blew their cat-- Claymoors and was going to pull back, but then they got pinned down, and-- I got a call from the thing saying we're pinned down and we can't break contact. So I had a decision. I called my company commander - called everybody - said I need reinforcements -- they still said it's just a minor probe - I said no, I don't think it is -it's a big push and I'm going to get my troops. He said well-- we'll be - we'll - you know we'll help you out a little bit later on -we'll give you - give us a call and all that stuff - and I said - and kind of wanted me to stay fixed to where I was - and I said no -I - they're - they're surrounded - I'm going to get 'em. So I took - the funny part today I think about it is I - I grabbed up all the guys that can move -- the mortar tubes and stuff I knew couldn't run through the jungle as fast as I needed to move, so I left a guy named Sergeant Bird and about 5 or 6 guys with the mortar tubes, and we took off through the jungle, heading toward the location. I felt that it was-- you know, we - they knew we were - where we were at - they knew what we were doing - they wasn't any-- any use of me to try to be stealth and try to sneak up on 'em or anything like that so basically I just told my troops the opposite -- I said what I want you to do is - we want to make - we want these people, whomever they are, to think this - this, this - this squad is being reinforced by a major unit. So there was 20-something of us - and so we--I made a l-- broke through the lines - got to my-- the unit that was surrounded - and sure enough, they were receiving fire from all sides, and-- so when we broke through, we-- we had to fight our way into 'em. Got there and-- sure enough I had one guy hit in the head-- Vincent Muler [sp?] was-- shot in the head, and-- he-- we were trying to do something with him, and by this time we had a machine gun or two-- kind of they started putting a lot of directed fire on us. And I tried to get a squad to move in to knock out the machine gun, and the guys moved in--and they got a little-- got pinned down-- so--only - only thing to do then was somebody had to get rid of the machine gun before it started killing all my troops, so-- I moved forward and-- knocked out the machine gun and 4 or 5 people and-- with a shotgun and some grenades and-- moved back to my unit. Said let's all get up - we're moving out -we're getting the heck out of here. At that time, well we started receiving some more fire from another angle-- I knew there was an opening just a little bit north of where we wee at, so I called in to some - some medical-- tried to get my Medivac in to pick up my, my troop. And so at that time-- my radio operator-- and two other individuals took Vincent and we started moving him toward the Evac Zone where we thought we could get him out. And they moved about-- oh, about 30 or 40 yards as far as they got before they got pinned down, and-- here I had another problem on my hands, so I moved forward to see what was going on there, and-- another machine gun come down, so I moved in and-- got rid of them. The only thing bad then when, when I-- when I was fighting that - that machine gun nest, I turned around and-- they did get me across the legs - they shot me across the legs, and so--I felt be-- I felt kind of funny - just like being hit-- with a baseball in the side of your legs and so forth. I hit the ground, and-- turned around, and the only lucky thing that happened to me in my life - I had a shotgun with me at that time, and then there was two other North Vietnamese coming after me at the same time, and-- the -they threw a grenade on - the grenade went off - [LAUGHS] the shotgun went in the air, and it landed and it just happened to land next to me so I could pick the shotgun up and take care of those guys. And-- just turned around at that time, and I still was able to move-- and they lobbed another grenade in next to-- next to two of my individuals - my radio operator and Vincent -and I yelled at 'em and yelled but they didn't - they kind of - they didn't move. So I just-- I was already hit, so what the heck - I dove in between - you know, covered their bodies and I - then I got some more grenades in the legs and so forth. And-- turned around and-- still receiving fire from one area, so I just turned around and crawled over -- I didn't even realize my legs weren't working at that time. Pulled myself over and took the last two grenades I got and flew in on those guys and got rid of 'em. And-- then - something else - just totally peace. Not one shot. Couldn't hear anything. And there we were-- everything just seemed to stop. So I got out to Sergeant Bynam and I said okay, it's time for us to pick up and get out of here. So we started getting everybody up and going - and then-- one of the other NCOs with me was another squad leader named Sergeant Burdine-- and-- [Gene], and-- so I told him - I said here's what we're going to do - we're going - everybody move out of here and we're going to pick up - and you're going to get everybody - you get down - and I just want you to get - just clear this area, because we're - they're - they're going to start hitting us again. And there's no reason for 30 of us to stand there and try to fight that - the, the, the numbers that were fighting. So I figured the best thing for us to do is get the - get out of there and come back to fight another day. So he started picking 'em up and I realized then I couldn't move. My legs were-- I was paralyzed from the waist down. So I said okay - this is no problem - I said - if you guys get everything up - get up - leave me the shotgun and two things and-- get going. So they all started getting - packing up -I'll never forget - they all get up and they start [running] and finally Sergeant [Rooney ?] said what are you saying? [LAUGHS] I said get on out of here! He said -- what do you mean get out of here?! I said - I said I'll cover you - just get out of here - don't worry about it - and he said no, sir - I'm taking you with me. he said okay we're the last two out. So everybody took out and he picked me up and put me across his shoulder, and he carried me down the hill. That's pretty neat. Pretty neat.

Unknown interviewer:

When - during that battle, when it was time for you to decide to protect your radio operator with that grenade - what - was it like slow motion - did you just gave me -what--?

Ronald E. Ray:

I, I never - a lot of people ask me that -what was going through my head as - I don't remember anything going through my head. I was always very protective. My mother was protective of me. My brothers protective of me. I was protective of them. Those were my troops-- there was nobody going to hurt one of those troops without getting me first and-- I just felt they were my - and it wasn't for -everybody says was it for America - was it for God and country - and the answer to that is no - it was for those guys with me that day. Those were mine. They - the - a mother and father had raised them and, and entrusted them to me - and-- it was my-- my job was to fight the battle the best I could, which is also to bring back as many as I could alive. And-- there was no question to me and never has been. My life was not near as worth as any one of those. If there had to be someone to die that day, it was going to be me - not them.

Unknown interviewer:

After the battle, when were you notified about the medal? Where were you when [...?...].

Ronald E. Ray:

Well I kind of - mine was kind of a unique--oh-- situation. I was put in for - my understanding is now, this is - this is all going back -- to - my company commander and I wasn't the best of friends. I mean-- I had--early on - the - I never covered this [better ?] but-- when we first started doing our operation-- I had real concerns about what we were doing. Here we had infantrymen-- 2 or 300 of us - all loaded up with all kinds of equipment - with--banging through the jungles of North - of the Vietnam - looking for the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong and-- my mother-- being the smart lady she is, she could, she could recognize the fact that the only time we're going to find-- the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong that way is when they wanted you to find them. And so I made this very clear to my company commander after the third day of operations of us going out, doing that. He didn't take kindly to the fact that I would suggest this. So anyway - that - I think that's one of the reasons he was, he was very happy to have me go up and fight my battle and he'd go fight his down to the south. So-- needless to say when they - when my - my unit - my understanding is - the company -the, the-- the people with me that day -they're the ones initially told me that, you know, you know - when I got back to the hospital - they operated on me in Pleiku -I'll tell you about that one in a minute - but that's kind if a unique situation. But the bottom line was my understanding is--the troops on the ground wanted me to get the highest award. When it got to my company commander, he recommended me for a bronze star. It got upgraded at-- used to be headquarters to the silver star, and I was presented the silver star-- by the Special Forces commanding general - Malloy - about 8 -8 or 10 months later. I happened to be walking in to-- the PX-- on base at Fort Bragg and run into my - Sergeant Breaker, the guy who was on the ground with me. Out of the blue. And he said to me -when are you going to - when are you going to Washington to get the Medal of Honor? I said I'm not going to get the Medal of Honor. he said what? He said - I'm not going to get the Medal of Honor. I said they gave me the silver star. he said - he exploded - he said I - we thought that was going to happen, and he said that's a travesty and that's not going to happen. Anyway, him and Sergeant Bynum and Burdine and all them - they got together and re-submitted the award straight to awards branch. And-- once it was investigated, it went through pretty fast. But-- and then-- I was at-- Fort Benning, Georgia in the career course and was notified - was called up to the commander at Fort Benning, and he's the one that told me I was being - receiving the Medal of Honor - along with James Livingston who was the Marine Corps advisor-- at Fort Benning, so we left together to get the Medal of Honor.

Unknown interviewer:

You were wounded.

Ronald E. Ray:

Yes, sir.

Unknown interviewer:

How long was it a long period of recovery [...?...] you lost?

Ronald E. Ray:

I still have - I mean I'm still-- I've never recovered fully from it. The body is a - just a fascinating-- thing -- first of all when they took me back in to Pleiku - when we finally got it backed out - I was at - they were debriding my legs, and the thing about then - they were deciding to cut off both legs - or to salvage the right leg - or salvage the left leg. And what had happened is the bullets-- had cut through the cytic [sp?] nerves on the right leg and bruised the one on the left-- and the grenades had torn up the right foot pretty bad, and-- the doctors were-- very concerned about when they went in - to debrid the wound - take out all the-- the affected tissue - that they definitely felt they - I was going to lose my right leg. And that's before they put me on - they - they let me know that it's - the possibilities -and my platoon sergeant who was not with me on the ground, who went back to a promotion ceremony - Art Johnson - came in and he sat during the operation - and it's the true story - he just told the doctors - he says I'm going to sitting here - and when you decide to take his leg, you're going to tell me first. So-- I don't know whether he saved my legs or not-- but I do know-- that he was there. And-- they debrided, and-- I came back whole. And-- it's kind of unique, cause every - when I go to Walter Reed now-- see the people coming back from Iraq, I-- I can tell them, you know -- there is life. I was paralyzed from the waist down -- took me about a year to get the feeling back in my left leg and-- using crutches and stuff I could get around the right leg. Started making Airborne jumps with crutches - so it was pretty unique. But-- it-- your - your body is something --it, it will recover if you work with it. But it's been long. I still have no feeling from the knee down in the right leg. It's -- but it's there - and it's mine.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me a little about the ceremony - who presented it - when was it.

Ronald E. Ray:

I - presented by President Nixon. The unique part about it - I was able to bring my mother and my brothers - my sister - and my family with me - it was - it was a moving ceremony -really was. Unique experience. My father was alive at that time, so he got to be there with me and be with the president when they presented it, so-- you know it's-- I wouldn't say it's the highlight of my life but it was definitely one of the top events in my life. And it's-- but the truth of it is, it was being able to-- to be honored by my country for doing what I should do - you know it's, it's-- I didn't do anything more than [AHEMS] - what everybody should do. I mean--if you're a leader and you're entrusted with the leadership of human beings and so forth -you - that's what you're supposed to do -you're supposed to lead them the best you can - fight the battle the best you can. But you should protect them the best you can. And that's - that's I did. Is protect my troops.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me what the medal means to you.

Ronald E. Ray:

Well it's - I guess it's - it's changed over time. Initially-- it was something-- you know that-- my country gave to me for w-- what I did that day - on the ground. And it was symbolic of that one action. But over time, I've realized that it's not only symbolic of that one action. It's the way your country wants to honor you and through you honor all those who have served. So it, it's turned to-- it was - it was easy to earn! It's tough to wear. It's tough to wear. Because I really believe that every day that - and every time I put that medal on -I'm not representing just Ron Ray -- I'm representing all those guys that was on the ground with me that day. And-- their lives - their wishes - their futures - all that was with me that day. And-- even today as I look back, I think it also-- requires me to every day think about what we are doing as a nation -- and how we are using our troops - our human beings - and, and what we in daily life and what we accept them to do. What did we demand for them to do? And what do we expect from our leaders when we put them and entrust them with troops on the ground in battle? And-- basically what it brings back to me is - we should never put troops on the ground in battle, and too we as a nation understand that not only are they killing human beings themselves - but they are themselves are human beings being killed. And it's - it's awesome. It's an awesome responsibility. And that's why I, I will never agree with pre-emptive strikes. I will never agree that-- until we exhaust all our -all necessary ways - you know, we as a - as a true nation - we have to be very careful about how we go about our businesses.

Unknown interviewer:

Tell me what it's like for your troops and the way you must feel towards them - the way you describe what they did for you - or what they did to help you receive the medal - what your sergeant did during the operation - that love - what do you f-- how do you - can you express that at all?

Ronald E. Ray:

No, it's - it's impossible. It's impossible for me to set here and tell anyone what is so deep inside my heart. And that's-- that's basically where everything comes from. I come - went back and I never - just seeing the - I went back and they inducted me into the Ranger Hall of Fame a couple of years ago - and the big issue then was-- what color beret they was wearing - they were going to change the color beret. And all I says to those troops that day -don't - it's not what you wear on your head -[MIKE JOSTLING] it's what's in here that counts. And don't ever let anybody tell you that that means anything. This means everything. And-- that's what it is. Every day we go into life, every day when you go to work and you look down and you know you could cheat your fellow person out of something, this might tell you to do it -- but it's this should be telling you not to. And-- it all comes from there. If you don't feel it-- you shouldn't be there.

Unknown interviewer:

Is there anything that I asked you - that I haven't asked you that you'd like to talk about?

Ronald E. Ray:

No, I, I think we went through about [LAUGHS] everything in my life now-- I think the only thing that-- I look back on - everything's happened to me in my life - I've been a very -I've been - I, I - I'm a very lucky person. I always said it's better to be lucky than good, and I, I've been blessed - had great mentors throughout my life-- great family -I've been blessed to have great troops with me throughout my - my-- time in the military -I'm blessed now. And I think that all of us that live in this country, in the United States of America - just don't understand how blessed we are. [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS]

Unknown interviewer:

Thank you so much. [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] [SHOT OF MEDAL] [SOUND CUT]

Unknown interviewer:

What's the core of your message to young people - what, what do you talk about?

Ronald E. Ray:

What is my message to young people - [well,] basically it gets down to-- I, I use the three - 3 - 3 words when I start talking to the kids, and that is-- what - what I call "build" -- could you stop just for a minute-- [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS]

Unknown interviewer:

Ron, when you talked to students, is there any message that you give them?

Ronald E. Ray:

Yeah, I think the basic thing - I said - I always talk to students and anyone about choices in life, and basically our life is, is derived around choices - and you have to set your goals - then you have to build the capacity within yourself to accomplish that goal - and then you have to drive yourself to complete the goal that you've - you've set. And I, I, I talk to them a lot about kids and-- everybody always are very good about setting goals and driving - they want to set a goal - like I tell them - you know, like you want a date with a girl - that's your - that's your goal. Now-- you don't just walk up to her and say -let's go out. You have to build something -you have to build relationship - you have to take some time - you know, maybe send some candy - whatever it is - you have to build the capacity in yourself to make her want to go out with you, and then you can ask her out. And that's the hardest thing to do in life is build. That - the people don't want to stay in school -- people want to get out - they want to go out in the world - but you gotta understand that that's where you build capacity. Anybody can set a goal and try to accomplish his goal by driving; it takes the unique person to take the time to build the capacity within themselves or within their unit to accomplish whatever goal that is. So I spent a lot of time talking about building capacity and how much hard work that - that takes. But if you don't build capacity within yourself to obtain a goal, you'll never get there.

Unknown interviewer:

Great. [End of Interview]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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