Chuck Ratliff, Viet Nam Veteran

The Stories are Tough, But the Flag Still Flies

Part One

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in my life writing about how men and women fight the wars of their generation and then leave their service in the hands of history. With this in mind, it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve never really written about the war of my generation…Viet Nam.

Our good friend Chuck Ratliff provided the following information. It is from his chapter in the book, Our War Was Different by Al Hemmingway. Chuck was a 19-year-old corporal when the following took place.

August 4, 1967, was Chuck’s squad’s day to run patrol. The day patrols were routine and consisted of 4-5 hours of gathering information about the enemy from the people as well as allowing themselves to be seen by the local people, often visiting the market or hospital.

Night patrol was a very different assignment, and it was for this that Chuck’s squad prepared. “We left the compound about 6:30 p.m. in order to arrive at our ambush site by 7:00 p.m. I took the point. The rest of the squad was staggered…Doc was in the middle of the pack, and Johnson was carrying the radio.

“This was one of my first patrols with the M-16 rifle. We were real pleased because we could carry so much more ammo. I was able to carry 500 rounds myself. But at the same time we were concerned because we’d heard it didn’t hold up under combat conditions in the jungle. Garcia and Doc also had M-16’s. Johnson had the M-79 grenade launcher, and Klipple humped the M-60 machine gun.

“It was dusk when we finally reached our location, and I halted the patrol along the edge of this trail about thirty meters from the ambush site, so I could look the terrain over before we moved in. I motioned for Garcia to join me and help recon the area.

“As I was looking back at the rest of the patrol, I noticed that one of the PF’s seemed to be aiming his rifle right at my head. As he fired, I heard the bullet whiz past my head in slow motion. I thought he was shooting at me. As the round went by, I looked the other way. I saw a VC soldier dressed in black falling to the ground with a bullet hole in his forehead. I only saw him for a few seconds, but to this day, I can still picture his face in my mind. The PF had seen this VC sneak up on me and didn’t have time to warn me, so he shot him.

“The next fifteen minutes seemed like a lifetime. Bullets tore up the grass all around us as we started to draw fire from a tree line about twenty yards away. Grenades were going off and people were yelling and screaming. I fired my M-16 on full automatic and it jammed after five rounds. I cleared it and fired again, but this time it jammed after only a few rounds.

“Klipple went down with a head wound, and Doc and I ran over to him. As I lifted his head, I could feel his brains in my hand. I told him he was going to be all right and not to go to sleep. Johnson scurried over and grabbed Klipple’s M-60 while I took the M-79, but a few seconds later, Johnson was struck in the head. I was lying next to him, firing my blooper and saying it didn’t look bad. But I was thinking he’d never make it.

“By this time, the VC were closing in, and we were within a few yards of each other. I fired my M-79 into a VC just a few feet from me. The round didn’t explode because it hadn’t traveled far enough to arm itself. I picked up the M-60 that Johnson had and let loose some bursts at the brush in front of me where I could see muzzle flashes. Then, the M-60 jammed, but I was able to clear it and continue firing.”

The Stories are Tough, But the Flag Still Flies

Part Two

We left Chuck Ratliff and his buddies stuck in 1967 last week, with bullets from the VC whizzing all about them, right before Chuck was wounded.

“There was a flash and a loud bang next to me. I fell to the ground and felt warm blood running down my left arm, but I didn’t feel any pain.” Ratliff called out for Doc, telling him that he had been hit and needed help.

“Just then I heard Garcia holler. He said he’d broken through their lines and was going to circle the VC. He told me to stay where I was because there were too many of them. Garcia and I were the only ones left. Doc was giving first aid to Klipple and Johnson, and the PF’s had left the area.

“As Garcia was advancing, a second grenade went of near me. I fell to the ground again but, just like before, I felt no pain. I got on my feet and suddenly everything turned real quiet. It seemed to be finished.”

Within a few minutes a reaction force arrived, ready to Medevac Johnson and Klipple as well as Garcia who had been wounded several times, was bleeding profusely, but was still alive. By morning, there was a general at the compound, asking to see the M-16’s because word had reached him that they were jamming on the men. His immediate response was, “No wonder they didn’t work, look how dirty they are!”

When the Chuck Ratliff and the others tried to explain that the dirt had come from the fighting, the general became angry and told them not to get smart with him. “This was one of the few times I have ever seen a Marine Corps officer make a total ….of himself.”

Chuck learned later that Garcia had died. “I saw quite a few men die in Vietnam, but Garcia’s death was particularly hard. He was such a good person. Klipple and Johnson were seriously wounded, but alive. Two days later the first sergeant asked me to accompany him to Phu Bai and identify Garcia’s body. After that, we went to see Klipple, who didn’t know who I was or where he was. His head had been shaved, and you could see where they’d opened him up. The doctor said his was lucky, but he didn’t look very lucky to me. I never found out where they took Johnson; I never saw him again.

“This was a bad time for CAP Alpha 6-9. We had lost three excellent Marines. And here’s the irony of Vietnam: to this day, I don’t know Johnson’s or Klipple’s first names. I may not even have Klipple’s name spelled right, and I have no idea what Doc’s name was. I think most Vietnam vets can relate to that. However, I do know that these people did an above average job when their country called them.”

The Stories are Tough, But the Flag Still Flies

Part Three

“I’m not sure Frank Garcia ever got a medal for his outstanding performance the night he lost his life. I did put in a request that he be decorated, but I was told that an officer had to witness the act. We didn’t have officers in the CAP units, so I don’t know whatever became of that recommendation.

“On September 11, 1967, Sgt. Dallas Ratliff [no relation] lost his life hit in the chest by a B-40 rocket as CAP Alpha 6-9’s compound was overrun by a Viet Cong unit.

“I left Alpha 6-9 in October 1967. I entered as a private first class and came out a sergeant. After I left, they finally made it a regular unit, recognized by the Marine Corps. Nobody except a few really understood what our job was. Col. Bill Corson, the first director, was very instrumental in the program and always supported us—he knew what we were about.”

During the Tet Offensive of 1968, the rest of CAP Alpha 6-9 was lost; the men were killed in an attempt to hold Highway I, trying to stop the North Vietnamese Army from reaching Hue City so that the Marines could move in.

“That’s why they were there.”

Chuck Ratliff joined the Duncanville Police Department in 1974; he retired from that force in 1998, and he and his wife, Carolyn, now reside in Comanche County. In 1999, Chuck decided to see if he could locate the Garcia family.

The best he could do was to write to every Garcia listed in the phone book in Billings, Montana and hope that one of them would be the right family. It was, and Chuck and Carolyn traveled to Montana, carrying the news of the last hours of her son’s life to a mother who had wondered and grieved for over 30 years. According to “Mama Garcia,” she could finally allow her son to rest in piece.

As we continue to celebrate birthdays in this country where the flag still flies, it is vitally important that we remember the unbelievable sacrifice that so many have made and are making today so that when we look up we can see that the flag still flies.

From Dessert Storm to Afghanistan and then to Iraq, I’ve made it a personal mission to visit with as many of our Comanche County servicemen and women as I possibly can. It might sound amazing, but I haven’t found any who weren’t extremely proud of the job they have been given, and who seem to ask nothing of us here at home except our support. It seems to me that giving that support and encouragement is the least that we can do.

Just as an aside, I think that it is important that I tell you about Mama Garcia’s sacrifices for this country. Mama lost her first husband in WWII; she lost her second husband in Korea; she lost her son, Garcia, in Viet Nam, and then, as he was preparing for Dessert Storm, she lost another son in a tragic accident.

I don’t know why some are called on to bear so much, but I’m so glad that Mama’s story of pride in her family who stood and fought for this country was shared with me, and that I’ve been able to pass it on to you. May God continue to bless and guard you, America!

About Fredda Jones

Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for and marketing small-town Texas.
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One Response to Chuck Ratliff, Viet Nam Veteran

  1. says:

    “I now know why Marines who have been to war yearn to reunite. Not to tell stories or look at old pictures. Not to laugh or weep. Marines gather because they long to be with men who once acted at their best; men who suffered and sacrificed, who were stripped of their humanity. I did not pick these men. They were delivered by fate and the Marine Corps. But I know them in a way I know no other men. I have never given anyone such trust. They were willing to guard something more precious than my life. They would have carried my reputation, the memory of me. It was part of the bargain we all made, the reason we were so willing to die for one another. As long as I have my memory, I will think of them all, every day. I am sure that when I leave this world, my last thought will be of my family and my comrades. … Such good men.”
    –Author Unknown–

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