Korean War

The outbreak of hostilities in Korea, June of 1950, again signaled the need for Rangers. On August 25, 1950, at Camp Drake, Japan, the 8213th Army Unit was organized from volunteers in the Far East. The 8213th was referred to more informally as the Eighth Army Ranger Company and was attached to the 25th Infantry Division. It participated in the drive to the Yalu and was deactivated in March 1951. 13 Airborne-Ranger Companies were founded during the Korean War.

korean rangers

Then Captain Charles Pete Spragins of the 10th Airborne Ranger Company and Captain Rudy Jones of the 11th Airborne Ranger Company put their men in Black Berets, others followed. The black stemmed from the intensive night training the men underwent. This is the first use of the color black other then individual usage of the beret. The Ranger Training Center (eventually the modern Ranger Training Brigade) liked the idea and ran test cases. Troops loved it, the brass did not. They were told to take them off. Airborne-Ranger companies were deactivated during the war.

Colonel John Gibson Van Houten was selected by the Army Chief of Staff to head the Ranger program at Fort Benning, Georgia. On September 15, 1950, Colonel Van Houten reported to the Chief of Staff, Office of the Chief of Army Field Forces, Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was informed that training of Ranger-type units was to begin at Fort Benning, at the earliest possible date. The target date was set for October 1, 1950, with a tentative training period of six weeks. The implementing orders called for formation of a headquarters detachment and four Ranger infantry companies (airborne). Requests went out for volunteers who were willing to accept extremely hazardous duty in the combat zone in the Far East.


In the 82nd Airborne Division, the result of the call for volunteers was astounding. Some estimates were as high as 5,000 men (experienced Regular Army paratroopers). The ruthless sorting out process began. Where possible, selection of the men was accomplished by the officers who would command the companies, similar to colonial days when Robert Rogers was recruiting.

Orders were issued and those selected shipped to Fort Benning. The first group arrived on September 20, 1950. Training began Monday, October 9th, with three companies of airborne qualified personnel. On this day, another company began training. These were former members of the 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment, and the 80th Anti-Aircraft Battalion redesignated the 4th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne), the only Department of the Army authorized, all-Negro Ranger unit in the history of the United States. They were again redesignated the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) prior to deployment to Korea.

All volunteers were professional soldiers with many skills who often taught each other. Some of the men had fought with the original Ranger Battalions, the First Special Service Force, or the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Many of the instructors were drawn from the same group. The faces of this select group may have appeared youthful, but these were men highly trained and experienced in Ranger operations during World War II.

The training was extremely rigorous. Training consisted of amphibious and airborne operations (including low-level night jumps), demolitions, sabotage, close combat, and the use of foreign maps. Every American small-arm, as well as those used by the enemy, was mastered. Communications, as well as the control of artillery, naval, and aerial fires, were stressed. Much of the training was at night.

Physical conditioning and foot marching were constant. Colonel Van Houten stated that the goal was, to prepare a company to move from 40-50 miles, cross-country, in 12-18 hours, depending on the terrain. Men learned it was possible to doze while marching. They also learned to swim in ice-ringed water.

No man was forced to remain a Ranger candidate. After a ruthless process of elimination, each company was still 30 percent over strength. During training, there was in the background a jeep with a white flag. Anyone who decided he did not want to, or could not, continue had only to go sit in the jeep. No one would harass or mock him. He would be driven away and his personal gear removed from the barracks before the other men returned.

The first cycle completed their training on November 13, 1950. The 1st, 2nd, and 4th Ranger Companies prepared for overseas shipment. The 3rd Ranger Company prepared to assist in training the second cycle, which would consist of the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Ranger Companies. These were also Regular Army volunteers, almost all of whom were from the 82nd Airborne Division. The 3rd Ranger Company moved overseas at the end of the second training cycle.

The 1st Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) departed from Fort Benning, Georgia, on November 15, 1950, and arrived in Korea on December 17, 1950, where it was attached to the 2nd Infantry Division. The 2nd and 4th Ranger Companies, who arrived on December 29th, soon followed it. The 2nd Ranger Company was attached to the 7th Infantry Division. The 4th Ranger Company served both Headquarters, Eighth United States Army and the 1st Cavalry Division. Throughout the Winter of 1950 and the Spring of 1951, the Rangers went into battle. They were nomadic warriors, attached first to one regiment and then to another. They performed out front work in scouting, patrolling, raids, ambushes, spearheading assaults, and as counterattack forces to regain lost positions.

Attached on the basis of one 112-man company per 18,000-man infantry division, the Rangers compiled an incredible record. Nowhere in American military history is the volunteer spirit better expressed. They were volunteers for the Army, for Airborne training, for the Rangers, and for combat. They were America’s volunteer forces for the Korean War. At a time when United Nations forces numbered over 500,000 men, there were fewer than 700 Airborne Rangers fighting in front of all American divisions engaged in combat.

The Rangers went into battle by air, land, and water. The 1st Ranger Infantry Company (airborne) opened with an extraordinary example of land navigation, then executed a daring raid nine miles behind enemy lines, and destroyed an enemy complex. The enemy installation was later identified by a prisoner as the Headquarters of the 12th North Korean Division. Caught by surprise and unaware of the size of the American force, two North Korean Regiments hastily withdrew from the area. The 1st Company was in the middle of the major battle of Chipyong-Ni and the May Massacre. It was awarded two distinguished Unit Citations.

The 2nd and 4th Ranger Companies made a combat jump at Munsan-Ni where LIFE Magazine reported patrols operating North of the 38th Parallel. The 2nd Ranger Company plugged a critical gap left by a retreating allied force. The 4th Ranger Company executed a daring over-water raid at the Hwachon Dam. The 3rd Ranger Company (attached to the 3rd Infantry Division) had the motto, “Die, Bastard, Die.” The 5th Ranger Company, fighting as an attachment to the 25th Infantry Division, performed brilliantly during the Chinese “5th Phase Offensive.” Gathering up every soldier he could find, the Ranger company commander held the line with Ranger sergeants commanding line infantry units. In the Eastern Sector, the Rangers were the first unit to cross the 38th Parallel and drive north.

The 8th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) was attached to the 24th Infantry Division. They were known as the “Devils.” A 22-man platoon from the 8th Ranger Company fought a between-the-lines battle with two Chinese reconnaissance companies. Seventy Chinese were killed. The Rangers suffered two dead and three wounded, all of whom were brought back to friendly lines. Officers at Fort Benning had long studied the employment of Ranger units. They recognized that the organization of Ranger infantry battalions offered many advantages, including better tactical employment. They believed that a lieutenant colonel battalion commander could operate more effectively with the senior officers of a division or high level staff, than could a captain who commanded a ranger company. A ranger battalion staff should be able to look out for the welfare of the men. Ranger operations could still be conducted on an organizational level.

Despite their recommendations, the organization remained the same and one Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) per infantry division. One change was adopted; however, the companies would be assigned at Army level and attached down to the infantry division.