Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ranger McGraw, the Bryan Staggs Flag, and Operation URGENT FURY

The interview excerpts below are from a transcript by Gunnery Sergeant Joe Muccia, USMC, with SGT Bruce McGraw of 1st Platoon, B Co, 1st Ranger Battalion. McGraw sent a written account to Gunny Mooch back in 2003 and he shared it with me on 13 December, 2015.

Gunny Mooch wrote the definitive history of Operation Urgent Fury. He is posting sections from the work as Bearing the Burden: Operation URGENT FURY From the Warrior's Perspective on Facebook. This transcript and others will be published in their entirety when that book is finally released. I made minor changes in this version for the sake of grammar and spelling, and I excised some sections out of consideration for the families of Rangers lost in combat.

Rangers jump onto Point Salines, "Fury DZ," revolutionary Grenada, 25 October, 1983. 

The 1st Ranger Battalion seized a Cuban flag from the Cuban garrison the morning of 25 October, 1983. A photograph of that flag and the story behind its capture are included in my own forthcoming work on Urgent Fury. The account that I include came from Ranger SSG Bryan Staggs. He told me that I needed to hear Ranger McGraw's version. He was right. Ranger McGraw's version, which covers much more than just the flag story, follows. 

The Infil

"...We were (aircraft) #3, with 1st Platoon, B Co. On our bird was the Battalion commander LTC Wes Taylor, Major Mayer, and more staff folk, also an Air Force Guppy jeep with a hard top. This was an MC-130 with Air Force radio folks in the back with us, very cramped ride. We ended up being the first bird in!

The jump master in the left door was CSM Gary Carpenter, I was his static line safety. SGT Mike Burton was the other door's jump master, and SGT Jim Bradford was his static line safety. 

It was chaos getting on the bird, we started to rig in the hangar at Hunter, we moved there sometime Monday afternoon, where we did mission prep, ammo distribution. We were told we had an hour to rig. Five or ten minutes into rigging our birds pulled up, or they were already there, they started their engines, and they told us to load right away. We were not rigged yet.

So we grabbed all our shit, it was unbelievably heavy and got on the bird, myself and Brad went to the front by the radio operators, and we finished rigging each other and JMPI'd each other and those around us. We did not hook our rucks up, of course, we shared a seat on a trash can, yup, for eight hours, that's all the room we had.

I climbed up on the back of the Guppy to look at the rear of the bird, there was SGT Bob "Spike" Ollari, a good friend and the sniper in my team stretched out on the ramp smiling and waving. Shortly after takeoff, CSM Carpenter came around the bird and JMPI'd everybody, we stayed rigged, not the commotion of some of the other flights who got some bad poop about not jumping and had to scramble before the jump. 

An hour out from jump time we finished rigging, drop time for A Co 1st Ranger Battalion was for 0500, we were told we were initially going in at 0230, but the Marine Corps refused to go into Pearls during the night. They said their pilots could not go in with NVGs (night vision goggles).

(Editorial note: I am not sure where this defamatory and widely held belief originated, but it was not based on fact, as every USMC helicopter pilot of the era was NVG qualified. Gunny Mooch explains that the time slip occurred because the Joint Chiefs running the op from the Tank in the Pentagon believed that Marines could not fly in the dark, when they actually lifted off the deck of the Guam at 0315 Local time in the middle of a rain squall.

A further delay occurred because the commanders wanted to synchronize all initial actions on the island, meaning that they wanted them to kick off, exploiting the element of surprise, at the same time. Delta and TF160 were delayed arriving at their launch site on Barbados, so H Hour was pushed back and both Delta and Rangers ended up hitting their targets in broad daylight.)

Ranger SGT Bruce McGraw, 1st Platoon, Co B, 1st Ranger Battalion, circa 1984.
Photo courtesy Ranger Bruce McGraw.

At some point before 0500, or around 0500, we were told that the birds for A Co, with the jump clearing teams, had a navigational problem, and that we would be going in first with all chalks following us in a two Battalion mass tactical jump. 

Myself and Jim Bradford were elated because as the static line safeties we knew one of us would be the first Ranger on the ground in a combat jump. When the command to hook up came, we would check static lines, making our way to the rear of the birds, and hook up at the front of the chalks. 

Major Maher, who had just taken over as XO, looked at me when I checked him and said, "I haven't even unpacked at my house yet." I replied something stupid with false bravado about how we do this all the time, hard core twenty year old buck sergeant. 

Started checking lines with no problem until I hit the Guppy, remember that, no room for me, the chalk, and the Guppy. 

Frantic to be in the front of the jump lines with Brad, I began to maul people, throwing them against the side of the bird, half crawling on them and the Guppy ... I pass them, check their line, apologize, and move on.

I pushed Tommy Wilburn so hard he looked at me like he was going to kill me, he was as hard as anyone could wish to be ... thinking quickly I started yelling some hooah shit to him about how fucking awesome this was, "we're going in first" kind of stuff. He seemed to enjoy that. 

Made it up front, hooked up and gave CSM Carpenter a thumbs up. Turned to look at Brad, seemed he was already hooked up and paying no attention to me, I yelled over at him several times, but no response. I would later find out on the ground that he felt he was doing more harm than good checking the lines and dealing with that Air Force jeep, so he gave up and hooked up somewhere in the middle of the chalk. 

When I think about it, I don't know how I did it, my ruck was well over 100 lbs. Worn on your waist for the most part, plus the weapon, and being in that harness, adrenalin is all I can think. 

Back to the CSM, the door came open shortly after I got up front, I could see the ocean, it looked dark and brown, isn't this the Caribbean? Night starting to just turn to day, there looked like some rolling waves going on down there, all I could think of was when 1SG Cayton had told us at the hangar that the four SEALs were found "tits up" the day before from a botched attempt to recon the runway.

(Editorial note: we heard this bad news on my bird during the infil en route. I believe that the failure of the SEAL reconnaissance of Point Salines was not disseminated to the commanders until sometime between Midnight and 0500 hrs Local. Many years have passed. Recollections vary. This is one example.)

I moved back a little bit from the door, and started to recheck my shit after the hectic trip from the rear of the bird, when I felt SP4 Dan Hesseltine, one of our M-60 gunners behind me, pounding me on the back. I looked back at him, his eyes were huge, and he was pointing to the CSM.

Appears he went out the door to do a door check when his right 18-inch attachment strap to his ruck broke. He was being pulled out the door, his ruck caught in the slipstream, flapping wildly, it appeared he was doing all he could to hang on, straining not to fall out the door. 

I put my arms behind his pack tray and began to yell at the crew chief, who was standing back behind him with his glare shield down, and arms folded pretending not to notice what was going on, he would not help. 

He just stood there. I just don't think he was coming anywhere near that door. I was screaming at him, calling him a motherfucker, I yelled back to Danny to grab me, which he did, and after several heave ho's, got him back in. 

He dropped his ruck to the floor, disconnecting the other strap, no time, 30 seconds, he told me to "stand by the door" (you do not say "stand in the door" for a combat jump).

The Jump

We crossed the very point of Point Salines, I saw the beginning of the runway, still a red light when I heard the clink from a static line, someone going out the right door, I looked back, our light went green, I heard and felt the CSM telling me to go, and I went. 

I was thinking, "that fucking Bradford went on a red light." I was still mad at him for not looking over at me before we went. Turns out it was SP4 John Reich, our platoon RTO, who admitted to me he went on the red to be number one on the ground .... the last time I was at Fort Benning in 1989 his name is in the Infantry Museum's Ranger / Grenada section. Fucker.

(Editorial note: early accounts of the Ranger jump claimed that the commander of 1st Ranger Battalion, LTC Wesley Taylor, was the first Ranger out the door. Rangers of the era who were there used to grind their teeth as Army PAOs failed to correct the record, in effect perpetuating a lie by omission.

As a consequence, for years LTC Taylor was considered the first Ranger to jump into combat since WWII. He was not. That honor goes to Ranger SP4 John Reich, who jumped on a red light in combat to ensure that he would be number one. Second jumper out the door was the subject of this interview, Ranger Bruce McGraw, closely followed by 1st Platoon Sergeant SSG Bryan Staggs.)

The CSM had to have picked his ruck up after the chalk went out and held onto it as he exited, what a hard bastard, dangerous, but wow. I think some of the guys thought I hesitated a second because from their perspective it appeared being back from the door a bit that we were still over water. Nope. It was because Reich went out on the red light that it caught me off guard, looking back the light had turned green and I went. 

I had a good exit and did not turn while dropping but did have twists in the risers all the way up, sucks, a very low jump with twists, time to get on the bicycle and quickly get them undone. I kept seeing SSG Staggs as I turned in place under my canopy. I'd blame the twists on the riggers for bad packing. I'm sure they'd say it was my fault. 

Less than a year after at a special ops mission we met an MC-130 flight engineer who was on our bird. He wanted to meet us because he said he could not believe we all didn't get killed. He told me the cockpit filled with smoke, the sky was filled with tracer fire, and later on the ground there were several areas on the outer skin of the aircraft with battle damage. 

I could not tell that was going on because I was dealing with my own little problem. The twists came out at around 50 feet, so I dumped my ruck, the 18 foot lowering line extended and hit the runway, smack dab in the middle a couple hundred yards from the runway's threshold and the Caribbean. 

I saw a big ass runway that seemed like it was real close, and kept thinking "man we had to be lower than 500 feet." (Editorial note: they did in fact jump from exactly 473 feet AGL at 0531 hours). I also noticed that it was very hilly, the satellite photos we saw made us think the immediate terrain around the runway was flat. 

This beautiful shot of Point Salines depicts the 10,000 foot runway and the high ground dominating its eastern end and the ridge lines to the right of the control tower where 1st Ranger Battalion fought the seminal battle to seize it. DOD photo. 

No wind where I was on the DZ, land right next to my ruck, and the canopy came cascading down over the top of me, great, twists, and now this. I started to pull the canopy off of me in the prone, the suspension lines had caught on a lot of my gear, when I heard my first gunfire coming from the hills near the tower, and down further from the east end of the runway. 

I saw orange and white tracers flying through the sky, bouncing off the runway. Very quickly, my knife came out and I began to cut the remaining entangled lines, got out of my harness and got my M-16 into action, removing some of the tape used to protect the exposed weapon during the jump, and chambered a round. 

There was a long drainage ditch along the north side of the runway that I chose to run to, but I began to feel that I was not taking direct fire. At this point I saw a Spectre gunship on station, the quad fifties in the hills began to shoot at him, falling well behind him.

The Spectre seemed low, less than two thousand feet. He began to climb and started to light up some areas where the fire appeared to be coming from, so I packed up my chute and reserve in my kit bag, zipped it up, and dragged it to the drainage ditch, thinking to get it out of the way for follow on landing aircraft. 

I looked to the west and saw the two birds carrying A Co coming in, more antiaircraft fire when they pulled off to the south and headed back out to sea. Well, what the fuck? All I could picture was the photos of the hostages in Time magazine coming out of the US embassy in Iran blindfolded, but this time it was me and my mates from my platoon coming out of Castro's headquarters with my mother looking at it saying "that's my son." Oh, shit. 

This photo taken by Dr. Robert Jordan conveys the problem confronted by Rangers as they landed around the runway: the high ground to the north, which teemed with Cubans and antiaircraft guns trying to shoot down aircraft. Photo by Dr. Robert Jordan, 28 October, 1983. 

I grabbed my ruck, "man this thing weighs a ton," and headed up the runway a few hundred yards to the platoon assembly area, by way of the drainage ditch, keeping my weapon and eyes on the hills immediately to my front north of the runway. 


We assembled by a dirt road off the runway, we could see to our two o'clock the tower, with the hill behind it where some of the antiaircraft fire came from, there was another hill at our ten o'clock that there appeared to be no one on, we were facing north.

Someone popped up in the tower, one of the guys, either SGT Hans Hoefnagel or SGT Bob Ollari, took a shot at him with a tracer round, it appeared to part his hair, we did not see him again. I later heard that a dead enemy combatant was found up there, never heard if he was Cuban or People's Revolutionary Army (PRA). 

1LT Stackpole through our RTO SP4 John Reich or our FO Charlie Ball from the FIST section who jumped with us called in a 105mm Willie Pete AC-130 mission around the tower, maybe they shot some HE high explosive also. 
This photo portrays the control tower and the Great House to its right overlooking the airfield terminal buildings on the right. The Rangers of 1st Battalion engaged Cubans firing from the control tower and its vicinity early the morning of 25 October, 1983. This photo was taken by Dr. Robert Jordan, 28 October, 1983. 

We all stood and watched like it was the Fourth of July, ooh, wow, hey. We started to hear a commotion coming through the brush in front of us, a lot of noise and movement, at the last second a bunch of dogs came flying by us, all with their tails tucked between their legs, and a look of terror in their eyes, guess the noise wasn't to their liking, I felt bad for them, I like dogs. 

The Battalion Commander (BC) was up the runway a ways with his HQ folks, where I don't know, my buddy and RIP classmate Steve Hudak was his RTO. Another Spectre was on station now, and they were shooting a lot of shit up. Met a guy at an airshow at Hansom Air Force Base (AFB) in 1991 after the Gulf War who was there with a brand new AC-130, talked to him for a few minutes and found out he was in one of those birds, it was nice to shake his hand.

(Editorial note: I must acknowledge the unrecognized role played by USAF Air Liaison Officer (ALO) Major Jim Roper. Ranger Bryan Staggs, in his own account of the operation, states "Major Jim Roper most likely saved the operation by his timely and accurate control of US Air Force assets." As Major Roper explained to Bryan Staggs at the 30th Reunion, "Wesley Taylor was not really using him and he just took over calling for fire on his own." Well done, Major Roper. Well done.)

Our platoon picked up and moved to the hill at our ten o'clock to get into a better position until the rest of the boys showed up, we set up a defensive three-sixty, my guys were on the southern section looking south back at the runway. Jim Bradford took Hans Hoefnagel and some of his lads a few yards north, 50-100 meters to act as an LP/OP oriented northeast towards the backside of the tower.

Bob Ollari set up his M-21 at the three o'clock facing the same way as Brad with Danny Hesseltine's M-60, with SP4 Norm Crowell his Assistant Gunner (AG). I checked on all this with SSG Bryan Staggs, then went back to my guys in time to see the first A Co bird coming in, low and fast, goose bumps just thinking about it. 

Follow-On Chalks Jump

The first bird from A Co came in and took immediate fire from behind the tower, which was we estimated eight hundred to a thousand meters from us, it was a quad fifty. The gunner was tracking behind and high, raking over the tops of the troopers. The next bird came in and caught the shit. [The Cuban gunner] raked over the troops again, but got onto the tail of the MC-130 as guys continued coming out, pieces of metal were flying off the back, and you could hear the metal getting chewed up. 

The Quad-51mm after it was captured by 1st Battalion Rangers. It made a nice Ranger toy. Photo courtesy of Patrick O'Kelley.  

I swear I saw pieces of metal the size of an average door go flying off and land in the water on the south side of the runway. He (the gunner) then lost track of the bird and went back down the line of troops, again high, but going through some canopies.

The plane deposited the last troops to get out the door, and headed for the deck, almost for a second or two looking like he was headed for the drink. He leveled off just above the water and firewalled that bitch, spray coming up off the ocean. 

They continued from the other end of the runway to fire at him beyond their range with the rounds going into the water. We set up SP4 Danny Hesseltine's M-60 at our 3 o'clock position, I grabbed the AG position for him, and we sent 100 rounds over the crest of the hill eight hundred to a thousand meters away where the fire had come from.

Bob Ollari also set up his M-21 and began to engage, we could see some Cubans walking around with assault rifles. Bob appeared to get one guy on the run in the leg, nice shot, I was looking at that through my binos. (Ranger Bryan Staggs adds, "Bob had just graduated from the USMC Scout Sniper Instructor Course, where he was the honor graduate.")

After we fired, Ranger Ball walked by me looking rather pale, he told me someone from the Battalion Commander's position saw our fire and called in a Spectre 105mm hit on our position, the hill top was a TRP (Target Reference Point), he broke in and informed them that we were friendlies just in time. Good FO, ear to the handmike!

Nightstalker Little Birds at Point Salines. This photo was taken later in the morning on 25 October, 1983, after the Nightstalker Blackhawks departed back to Barbados. The MACO controlling the tarmac is at far left. Photo courtesy of an unknown Nightstalker. 

I understand between our drop and A Co was about a half hour, and the same after A Co dropped before the rest of the birds came in. We were in that position until all the birds dropped. After three or four more dropped a flight of four or five Blackhawks approached from the east going south, then west of the runway and landed facing east below our position where they could not be engaged by the antiaircraft positions because of the terrain. They shut down. 

So now guys were making a combat jump and almost landing on top of our own choppers. I remember SSG Jim Attaway from our platoon who jumped in the fifth or maybe seventh bird saying they expected carnage when he landed from the reports that they were getting on the follow-on birds, instead he landed next to a UH-60 with a crew chief sitting next to the bird turning a wrench, smoking a butt like he was on some airfield in Georgia.

I suspect that this photo, which I believe was taken by 1st Battalion Ranger Christopher Marks, may depict the Nightstalker Blackhawks that Ranger McGraw saw shut down on Point Salines early on 25 October, 1983 after the Delta assault on Richmond Prison was aborted. If you know who took this photo and when, please let me know so I can update this post. 

The aircraft seemed to gain altitude for the jumps as the later aircraft carrying the 2d Ranger Battalion came in. The antiaircraft fire started to dissipate greatly from the work done by the AC-130s, and some of the last birds had to be up over 700 feet.

Some 2d Battalion boys started to make their way towards our position, I gave the far recognition signal which was placing the left arm over your head parallel to the ground, he returned it and moved up to greet me. 

I went to Ranger school with this kid, Jim Harlow. I saw him later the morning after the Calivigny airmobile, he was busted up a bit riding in a 2d Battalion gun jeep, lot of bandages on his leg and head, must have been in one of the birds that went down. I did not get a chance to talk to him. 

Pushing Out the Airhead (or "Hey, SSG Staggs, go fuck yourself.")

We now had to move, sweeping north of the runway and control tower, clearing these areas, this was our mission for the runway, then link up with the rest of our Company. The terrain was hilly, and the vegetation very thick, we could only move by the dirt road, towards the area where we saw the Cubans with assault rifles on the hill behind the tower. Great. 

My squad had the rear with the platoon sergeant SSG Staggs. Jim Bradford's group had point. We moved along the trail going east until we hit the "Old Cuban Camp" behind the tower. We came across Cubans who were armed. In the rear I could hear shouting for people to drop their weapons. I took my team and flanked to the right of the point and got in a position where I could see what was going on, and engage if needed. 

A group of 20 or so had surrendered, but one guy behind some kind of silver propane tank would not give up. I went up some stairs next to SGT Hans Hoefnagel, who had a LAW out aimed near this guy. We were pretty close to him at this point, (I told Hans), "hey, Hans, put that away." 

HQ, A Co, 1st Ranger Battalion, and the infamous Bryan Staggs flag. Front holding the flag, Rangers Sauble and Newkirk. Standing, from left, 1LT Pelizzon, Rangers Pfander, Pierson, Hocker, "KO?", Filgueiras, and at far right, SSG Bryan Staggs himself. Middle row, Ranger Harrison, Doc Hurley with the flying beret, Rangers Parks, Moore, and Christopher Marks. Last row, Rangers Squires, Miller, Orris, Terrell, and Hoffman. I believe that Ranger Marks uploaded this photo to Facebook. He identified the Rangers depicted. The photo was taken in November, 1983, shortly after returning from liberated Grenada. Ranger Staggs shared another version of this photo with me, but I noticed that his version did not include Doc Hurley. I went to 300F1 with Hurley, he was a very fine, odd man, so I publish this version here. The other version, sent to me by both Bryan Staggs and Bruce McGraw, is below. Only Rangers care about who is depicted in these photos, but if you can provide corrections, please do. 

SSG Staggs came up to me, down to our right on the hill overlooking the tower was a large Cuban flag on a flagpole. "Hey, Mac. Go out there and get that." Hey, SSG Staggs, go fuck yourself. I did not think it was too safe or too smart at that time to go out in the open and get it. He had someone get it later. (In fact Staggs shinnied up the pole and seized the flag himself. He has it to this day.)

About twenty of us had a bead on this guy, after some talking, yelling, etc., he came down. Myself, an M-60 team, and Bob Ollari moved up into the camp. We crept forward in a wedge, there were a few buildings, and a large foundation started, weapons and military gear thrown everywhere, AK's, bayonets, pistols, binos. Suddenly all these people came out of nowhere and started to surrender to us. They shocked the shit out of me. 

Ended up close to if not more than a hundred. (Ranger Bryan Staggs states that the actual number of Cuban POWs captured was between 200 and 250.) We told them to line up and move down the steps to the platoon, many were still armed, we pointed our weapons right at the first few, who got the message and dropped their weapons, the rest soon followed. 

Further east in the small compound was a quad fifty with hundreds of expended casings around it, looked like Spectre had put a few rounds around it. The dirt road continued down the ridge to the east.

I moved down this ridge road with 1LT Stackpole, RTO SP4 Reich, and SP4 Norm Crowell. There were some small huts filled with weapons, three or four of them, to include RPGs, facing south towards the runway in dug in positions with Chinese (guessing from the writing) antitank weapons, similar in size to our 90mms, I think 73mm?

Captured agricultural implements. DOD photo. 

From this vantage point and the fact they did not have antiaircraft weapons down where we landed, on the west side of the runway, we concluded that they were expecting an amphibious landing. Their defense seemed set up more for that.

(Ranger Bryan Staggs remembered, "One of the things that really stood out as we swept through the Cuban barracks was how many weapons they had. Way more than a Construction Battalion would have. (They had) Dual 23mm cannons, Quad Fifties, Recoilless Rifles, Mortars, cases and cases of AKs, mine, grenades, everything. It was unreal all that we captured as we moved through.")

I had turned around from the LT and Reich who had their backs to the woods behind us looking at the antitank weapons, turning back I saw SP4 Norm Crowell's eyes light up and his weapon, an MP-5SD start to come up. I turned, raising my weapon to see a young kid in jeans, about twenty years old, with black hair carrying an AK-47 come out of the woods. He started to raise his weapon, saw Norm, then me, pointing ours right at his squash, his eyes and his face made a quick, "oh, shit please don't kill me" look, and his weapon came down.

1st Platoon, B Co, 1st Ranger Battalion. Kneeling left to right, SGT Bruce McGraw, SGT Hans Hoefnagel. Standing, from left, 1LT Pat Stackpole, on far right, SSG Bryan Staggs. First row from left, SSG Eddy Cox, SGT Dave Barton, SGT Bob "Spike" Ollari, SP4 Stokes, PV2 Den McClain, PV2 Gowens, SGT Sauble. Second row, from the left, SSG Young, SP4 Don Hyatt, SP4 Roger Daub, PV2 Mark Fox, SP4 Robert Kaufman, SGT Jim Bradford, SP4 John Reich. Third row, from left, SSG Jim Attaway, SGT Christopher Schuler, SP4 Kip Rheinheardt, SP4 Richard Reid, SP4 Jesse Abbott, SP4 Danny Keys, PV2 Mark Conway. Fourth row, from left, nameless Ranger SSG, SP4 Danny Hesseltine, SP4 Mike Manni, SP4 Robert Harding, SP4 Norm Crowell, SP4 Jimbo Bray, PV2 Marchio. Photo courtesy of Rangers Bruce McGraw and Bryan Staggs, names courtesy of Bruce McGraw. Photo taken early November, 1983. 

We all ran at him, got the AK, and put him on his knees. I think they started to flex cuff him when I believe I heard a noise from the woods that sounded like a bolt going forward. I took out a frag and started to remove the safety clip and tape around the spoon. The LT asked me what I was doing. I told him, he said he didn't hear anything and to cut it out. 

I said, well, lets just throw this and find out for our safety. Nope. Don't waste ammo. Ok. See ya. I ran back up the hill to the west to the rest of the platoon. If he wants to die here fine, do it by yourself.

I mentioned earlier the Lieutenant did a thing or two that I did not agree with. This was one of them. We had very strict ROEs. I think he was worried we might hurt someone who was not a combatant. I feel given where we were, what had just happened, and what had happened prior, I was right. Oh, well. 

2d Battalion Rangers in a gun jeep cover Cuban and PRA prisoners of war. This jeep belonged to the Battalion S-3 shop, TOC 2. Ranger SSG Ken Bachmann mans the M-60. DOD photo, 25 October, 1983. 

(Bryan Staggs remembers, "After we went through through our POW handling SOP (standard operating procedure) we eventually turned them over to B Co, 2d Ranger Battalion, if I remember correctly. This was a wild time as our POWs outnumbered us 10 to 1. We set up a line ten across with POWs lined up and their hands over their heads waiting to be processed. We had the M60's set up watching them with instructions to mow them down if they started anything. Sheer numbers would have been hard to handle in close quarters battle if they decided to resist. We would have won, but it would have been bloody at ten to one.")

LT Pelizzon came up from the runway in a gun jeep and took our PWs so we could continue to move to sweep and link up with the company. He later would get a Bronze Star for that, for taking our PWs prisoner, after they had been disarmed and searched.

(Bruce McGraw later clarified: "I reread what I wrote when you posted it, I was thinking damn I hope Dave Pelizzon and Pat Stackpole if they see it don't get pissed at me. It really is just how I remember how I felt as a 20-21 year old Buck Sergeant at the time, not how I feel about them, I really like Dave and Pat and have a shit ton of respect for both of them, Dave comes to our reunions and is just a great guy.

Indeed, I'll tell you this given the opportunity again I would have thrown that grenade, that fucking kid was not alone with the AK, I heard a bolt go forward, and the dude kept nervously looking to the wood line, I think waiting for his buddies to light us up, I think they chickened and bugged out.

They are probably the dudes that lit up and killed that 82d Company Commander and SSG, so when I say to people I was lucky to get out alive in Grenada secretly that's one of the things I'm talking about ... cause I know we were in somebody's sights only a few meters away, but it's all gut and speculation on my part.")

The original interview with Ranger McGraw continues:

We picked up and continued east down the hill, right by the spot where I heard the bolt go forward, had my eyes on the woods, and finger on the trigger there. We crossed an open area on our way to the next ridgeline running up to Goat Hill then the hamlet of Calliste. 

The remains of Calliste barracks, photo taken 29 October, 1983 by Dr. Robert Jordan. 

A Morning Gunfight

We took fire there, and bolted across the open ground. Seems we could be seen by what would be known as the large or main Cuban compound. Made it across and went into a ditch by the side of the road, popped up wanting to see something to shoot, nope, nothing.

Sat there for awhile while I watched the rest of the platoon scramble across. Scotty Blanton had dropped his ruck when we came under fire so he had to go out there and get it, he looked embarrassed as he drew some fire again, but he got back ok. They were a good distance off, and thankfully very inaccurate. 

1st Battalion Rangers on Goat Hill the morning of 25 October, 1983. Photograph by Ranger Chris Marks. 

The LT hooked up with CPT Newman on Goat Hill looking down on the Cuban compound. I was on the back side of the hill for most of this, facing back to the runway. They ended up putting the snipers on the ridge, and they started getting kills.

A Marine SeaCobra came right over me and fired a TOW missile into the compound, followed by another. They fired one or two each, then left. I believe they were the two shot down very shortly thereafter in St. Georges.

(Gunny Mooch clarifies: "The TOW missile fired by the SeaCobra destroyed a truck mounted recoilless rifle that the Cubans were trying to load. USAF ALO (Air Liaison Officer) Lance Heaton directed that mission. The TOW attack on the truck occurred later in the morning, after the remainder of B Co 1st Ranger Battalion was on the ground."

On a side note, Gunny Mooch continues, "the two SeaCobras cited by Bruce were not shot down at St. George's. These birds and their crews did a handoff with the birds and pilots that were shot down shortly after the actions described by Bruce. People have no idea how complicated an action Urgent Fury was during those early, chaotic hours ... except for maybe you guys that were on the ground.")

I believe that this is one of the SeaCobras firing top cover for the Rangers at Point Salines shortly before it was shot down. Gunny Mooch says that it was taken by a Navy PAO as the SeaCobra made a pass near the Guam. DOD photo. 

Back at the Cuban compound around the time 1LT Pelizzon showed up some of the guys had started to pick up souvenirs. He yelled at everyone to put shit down and not take anything or there would be big trouble. I had a brand new bayonet in my ruck, right in front of me was a Russian pistol, and binos. Oh, well. I left them. 

Back at HAAF after we got back I would see him showing off those binos, and my LT showing off the pistol. Anyway, I was in my little world behind Goat Hill safe and happy when my 1SG walked by. This was the first time I saw 1SG Cayton on the island. Right before I saw him I decided to lose the AK-47 bayonet, heeding 1LT Pelizzon's warning. I threw it in the bushes beside me.

Cayton walks by and he's got about six of them hanging out the back of his ruck, and who knows what else inside, so I grabbed mine out of the bush, and put it back in my ruck. Still have it to this day. Wish I had the binos and pistol, too. 

1st Ranger Battalion snipers SGT Dave "Mango" Manges and SGT Bob "Spike" Ollari, photo taken 25 October, 1983. After Spectre, Ranger snipers proved to be the deadliest weapons systems on the extended ranges of the airfield. Photo courtesy of Ranger Dave Manges. 

SSG Staggs called me up to the crest of the hill. Our platoon was to link up with A Co further up the ridge and tie-in. We would then relieve them in that spot. This was the little village of Calliste. While the LT and the PSG were getting the word from CPT Newman, I lay in the prone amongst our snipers, Manges, Ollari and Foltz, they were discussing which kills were theirs.

From there I got my first look into the main Cuban compound, and could see the motorcycle that SGT Johnson and SP4 Genovese had rode into the beginning of the compound, the bike was there but they were not to be seen. That was the first I heard and saw of that. 

South Airport Road, Cuban Engineers Compound, another view of the Calliste Barracks of the People's Revolutionary Army, photo courtesy of Dr. Robert Jordan, 29 October, 1983. 

We moved out following the road on the ridge from Goat Hill to Calliste, a few tense minutes walk. The compound on our left, and some homes, the runway on the back side of the ridge. I was nervous because a few RPGs had been fired up this way very shortly before. We hooked up with A Co, while they coordinated I lay on the runway side of the ridge with some guys that I knew. 

This is how the main Cuban compound appeared from Goat Hill. This remarkable photo was taken by Ranger Christopher Marks on the morning of 25 October, 1983. 

They were passing a bottle of rum that they got. SGT Norm Dittrich whom I went to Ranger School with told me that SP4 Mark Yamane had been killed on the runway, he said he had been on an M-60 firing when the gun went silent, he had taken a head wound ... and died. He said Doc Donovan was there, and some other medics, out in the open under fire trying to save him, but could not. 

He also told me how they got up the hill behind the bulldozer, good stuff, but the boys were upset, some holding back tears. We went back down to Goat Hill, picked up the platoon, and went back and took over the A Co position in Calliste, all pretty uneventful. 

[ ... ]

Ranger Toy Quad 12.7mm Antiaircraft Gun at Point Salines. DOD photo.. 

Ranger Toys

There was a 12.7mm in Calliste that was oriented towards the east end of the runway. When I went to coordinate the link up with A Co with SSG Staggs, SGT Bradford and 1LT Stackpole, the lads from A Co who were drinking the rum told me how they got up the hill with the bulldozer, took the quad 12.7mm and turned it on the Cubans as they ran down into the main Cuban compound until it jammed. 

The Quad-12.7mm covering the east end of the runway. Photo courtesy of Ranger Marshall Applegate, ALO (Air Liaison Officer) with the 1st Ranger Battalion. 

We also had one in the first small Cuban compound, when I was down the ridge with 1LT Stackpole, Reich and and Norm Crowell, right before the Cuban came out of the woodline (from which) the quad 12.7mm fired, it was up behind us from where we had come and our platoon was searching the prisoners before 1LT Pellizon came up to get them. 

Bob Ollari, our sniper, was walking away embarrassed, he accidentally fired it. The rounds went out into the ocean. We got a good laugh and Bob never lived that one down, Jim Bradford can confirm this, we used to pick on Bob for it. It made him real upset, but very soon he would get eight confirmed kills from eight hundred to one thousand meters, so he had a leg up on us. 

23mm Antiaircraft Cannon at the Calliste Cuban camp. 

[ ... ]

We saw this from Calliste, Ranger Jose Filgueiras. I believe they had a gun jeep and that 1SG Cayton was with them. They moved in the road towards the main Cuban compound, a large group came out and surrendered. How many? Two dozen or so.

(Editorial note: Ranger Bryan Staggs counted between fifty to sixty surrendering Cubans in this incident. He clarifies, "Cayton and Filgueiras and B Co HQ captured between fifty and sixty over by Goat Hill. There were two separate groups of POWs.") They moved in almost as far as the 1st Battalion bike that was laying on the ground near the road, as they got there the Cubans gave up. 

Johnson and Genovese came hobbling out from behind some cover, they were alive! Another gun jeep came up, they scooped these two up and scooted back ... Anyways I remember Fig on the bullhorn in the gun jeep, and all described as above, it was a very heroic scene. 

SGT Ron Johnson ... shot in the lower leg, and SP4 Gary Genovese, shot in the leg and shoulder. When they were picked up Johnson hobbled to the jeep, but Genovese only made a few steps and sat down, some Rangers grabbed him up, brought him to the jeep and got them out of there. I heard that their weapons stayed strapped to the bike when they got blown off. They were alone, no weapons other than some frags and wounded.

[ ... ]

During the exchange I spoke briefly with SGT Kevin Gilbert from A Co, we went to Pre-Ranger together, he told me about the gun jeep loss and that SSG Randy Cline and SGT Mark Rademacher were dead. SP4 Yamane and Rademacher were in the RIP class after mine. Not sure of the timeframe here, but I believe this was before noon, sometime between 1000-1200 hours. 

Because of the actions of our snipers on Goat Hill, and the SeaCobras, the Cubans were keeping a very low profile at this point down in the main compound. Most of our contact was at ranges beyond our M-16A1s, so the use of our M-60s and the XM-21's were very valuable. When we got close, they gave up. It was at times actually frustrating. You just wanted to shoot somebody.

Going Home

We left on Friday night after the 2d Battalion had gone, we joked we got there before and left after them. We boarded a C-141B with no middle seats, wow, plenty of room, they brought in and loaded a quad 12.7mm and a 23mm gun and we shackled them down. As we taxied the pilot came over the intercom and said "we understand we've got the first folks on the ground as our passengers," something else about how proud they were to fly us back, and how proud the folks back home were. Hooah. 

The plane took off, and when the wheels left the runway there was some hooting and hollering, hand shakes, and hugs. Then shortly silence, everybody snoozed. 

[ ... ] 

We landed at Hunter in early daylight, pulled up to the hangar we left from, the ramp dropped, and standing outside was SFC Bill "Pooch" Walters, what an honor to be met by that great Ranger, and have him shake all our hands as we got off. No crowds, no speeches, no families, just Pooch, that was enough for me. I felt like I was crossing some kind of line, into manhood, or a special club or something corny like that, it was a great feeling. 

Joe that's all I got, hope you get something out of this, enjoyed writing it and having a few old memories revived. Good luck with the book, it's a good story about what I feel was America's first real application of her modern day special operations forces brought together for a combined arms mission. I know there were problems, but I've always said, and always will say that the 1st Ranger Battalion took more fire, caused more enemy casualties and had as far as I know NO cases of fratricide, showed more fire discipline and respect for life on all sides, following the rules of engagement. We took more ground, in less time than anyone, we accomplished all of our assigned missions and then some. That's not true of other units who were there.

The 30th Annual Reunion of 1st Platoon, B Co, 1st Ranger Battalion. From left to right, Rangers Richard Reed, Bruce McGraw, Danny Keys, Mike Matt, Christopher Schuler, Mike Manni, and Bryan Staggs. Aging gracefully, gentlemen. 

It was a great mission to be on in the places I was during that mission as a young young man. I was very lucky at times, had we fought a more well-trained, motivated enemy I know there is a good chance I would not have come back, as would many of my friends. Hey, it was the only game in town, and we were more than happy to go."

Ranger SGT Bruce A. McGraw. 
Interview transcript courtesy of Gunnery Sergeant Joe Muccia dated 07/18/2003.
Corrections courtesy Rangers Bruce McGraw and Bryan Staggs, and Gunny Mooch.
Last correction: 21 December, 2015: 1951 hrs. 


Blogger Unknown said...

Good read. I appreciate the post. I was in 1/75th Ranger, A co, 1st platoon. I remember Norm Dittrich, he used to make those WWII tank scenes in his room. Anyway, Great Job

10:07 AM, December 25, 2015  
Blogger Esteban Trujillo de Gutierrez said...

Thank you, Ranger brother.

4:57 AM, December 30, 2015  

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