A unique group of Vietnam Veterans met in Pisgah last night as a part of their annual reunion to remember those lost during the Vietnam War and those who have passed away in the 50 years since its end.
Shane McGath, son of the late Sergeant Robert McGath and Robert’s widow Judy hosted the Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol Ranger reunion at Shane’s home in Pisgah last night. It’s the first reunion held since 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Different members of the group of veterans host the reunion each year. Last night’s banquet was part of a multi-day event here in Central Illinois with activities continuing in Springfield today.
Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol Rangers or LRRPs (pronounced “Lurps”), were small, heavily armed long-range reconnaissance teams that patrol deep in enemy-held territory. The US Army LRRP concept was created in 1956 by the 11th Airborne Division in Augsburg, Germany and used in Europe throughout the late 1950s during the Cold War for the events of a possible war outbreak, they would be used behind enemy lines to provide surveillance and to select targets of opportunity.
In December, 1965 during the early portions of the Vietnam War, the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, formed a LRRP platoon, and by April 1966, the 1st Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division and 173rd Airborne Brigade formed LRRP units as well. On July 8, 1966, General William Westmoreland authorized the formation of a LRRP unit in each infantry brigade or division in Vietnam. By 1967 formal LRRP companies were organized, most having three platoons, each with five six-man teams equipped with short-wave radios. In February 1969, all US Army LRRP units were folded into the newly formed 75th Infantry Regiment, later designated as the 75th Ranger Regiment. The art of long-range patrolling and the skills and tactics of the Vietnam LRRPs set the standard for today’s Long-Range Surveillance Rangers (LRS’s) and Marine reconnaissance units.
The gathering in Pisgah was a special one, as the reunion group announced the release of two recently-created videos highlighting a heroic mission by a Cobra Helicopter Pilot who saved a group of 4 LRRPs in June 1968. First Lieutenant Larry Taylor piloted the small craft into enemy territory on the night of 18 June 1968 and carried Team Wildcat 2 of Company F, 52nd Infantry, 1st Infantry Division of Bob Elsner, Billy Cohn, Gerald Paddy and Dave Hill three miles out of a rice patty. The four men had been surrounded by North Vietnamese during a recon mission and had spent most all of their ammunition and were outnumbered, by an estimated 16 to 1. Taylor, going against orders and low on fuel, lowered his small craft to the ground and carried the men 3 miles to the outskirts of Saigon to safety.
Of the four men of Wildcat Team 2, only Hill survives. Hill is currently working on getting Taylor, who is still living, recognized with the Medal of Honor for his deeds on that night in June of 1968. Hill says that he has been working since 2017 to submit paperwork to get Taylor the medal: “He really got gypped. What he did was way beyond the Silver Star that he got awarded. We didn’t know how to [get him nominated for the Medal of Honor], so we talked to Bob Corker, who is a Tennessee Senator at the time to sponsor it. It was over the 3 year time limit [for the process], and at the point we started was almost 50 years in 2017. We’ve been pushing this thing through over the past four years, and rightfully so, it’s tough process. They don’t give them out for nothing. At any rate, we push, we push, they push back. We answer questions and sent it back and resubmitted the application. At this point, we are resubmitting to the Pentagon and additionally, it goes to the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of the Army. If the SecDef approves it, it’ll be recommended to the President of the United States, in this case President Biden, and he will be the one who would award it.”
The group recently partnered with Freedom Sings USA out of Chattanooga, Tennessee who partners with veterans of all wars to help them heal through the power of music and songwriting. The partnership produced the song “No Man Left Behind” written by Don Goodman and Steve Dean performed by country artist Ron Wallace. The song documents the June 1968 Rescue Mission. The group also produced a video of an interview with Lt. Taylor providing his firsthand account of the event. Both videos are available on YouTube here and here.
Hill hopes that the videos will help spur interest and bring recognition for Taylor who saved his life. Hill says he has read about similar deeds by other Vietnam helicopter pilots who have been awarded the Medal of Honor and he feels that Taylor is just as deserving for the recognition.
LRRP Reunion Group President Dave Flores says the group of LRRP units get together each year for a food banquet, reminisce, catch up on current life with their families, and at the end of the reunion read the names of those who were Killed in Action during the war, and in recent years have begun to read the names of those who have passed away since the end of the war in 1970.
Flores says that the LRRP units were unique from other Vietnam units because they worked together in such small groups and had such a shared experience: “I talked to guys when I was working after the war who were in Infantry companies and I asked them: ‘Hey do you guys go to any reunions or do you see some of the guys you served with?’ Most of them say ‘no.’ They say: ‘I was only good friends with a couple of guys but we don’t have reunions. I don’t go’ and this and that. A lot of those guys say: ‘You go every year, Dave.’ I tell them that our relationship with the guys that I served with – we had 12 operational teams at the height – I knew every one of those guys. We had 6-man teams. Those 6 guys stayed in the same tent. We hung out. We out into the field for 4 or 5 days at a time, shared the same experiences. That makes for a different relationship. Seeing these guys once a year, there’s a lot of connection there that doesn’t go away.”
Hill hopes that a recent letter of recognition by four-star General B.B. Bell for Taylor along with 100 other pieces of documentation and witness accounts in the new submission will help get the nomination over the top.
In all, the reunion last night in Pisgah had over 35 members from all around the country in attendance last night. The late Robert McGath and his wife Judy began attending the reunions in 2003. Judy and Shane still attend the reunion since Sgt. McGath’s passing in 2019, and were invited to serve as the honorary hosts of the LRRP reunion this year. Sgt. McGath served as LRRP from July 1968 to July 1969. Flores hopes that stories of all Vietnam Veterans and what they endured at home and abroad will never be repeated, and hopes through their stories, people will appreciate the sacrifices made by all those who serve both now and in the past.