|Garland "Rip" Randall|
(Portrait courtesy of Colin Kimball*)
Colin is a photographer and portrait artist, he does portraits of fallen warriors. A number of his works hang in Collin County Courthouse in McKinney, Texas. The portrait above is a work in progress. Colin sent that to me to accompany the following story. It's a tale of an American fighting man.
Amen brother. Thanks for passing that along, Colin. You can read more about Colin's work to honor the fallen, here and here. It's an impressive body of work. Proud to call you friend, Colin.Garland J. “Rip” Randall, the Noble One
Colin Kimball, June 10, 2016
My Irish Grandfather was an accomplished boxer in his younger days. He adored Muhammad Ali. My father did not. I was torn between these two influences. With the passing of Muhammad Ali, I readily acknowledge his great skill, tremendous showmanship in the boxing ring and that he was an icon of the sport of boxing and role model for generations of people. Yet “The Greatest there ever was,” Ali’s self-proclaimed title from his boisterous days, is a subject of much conjecture among Vietnam Veterans and the Veteran community. But that is not my fight and this is not a story about Muhammad Ali, this is the story of Garland Jerome “Rip” Randall a little known champion boxer from East Texas. Garland Randall was a man of humble upbringings in the racially segregated world of east Texas. Fighting out of a gym in Tyler, Texas, he would catapult to a worldwide ranking of #3 as a welterweight fighter. When his nation called, he put his boxing career on hold. This is the story of Garland Jerome “Rip” Randall, boxing champion and Specialist 4th Class United States Army.
A native of Longview, Texas, Rip, as he was known in boxing circles, began his fighting career in 1957 at age 16. Known for his aggressive non-stop offensive style of fighting that made him a fan favorite, he ascended through the ranks of the welterweight class fighting many known favorites such as Curtis Cokes, Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Nino Benvenuti, and Manuel Gonzalez. Garland had a major sixth round victory over the former World Champion, Virgil Atkins that propelled him to a world-wide rank of #3 in the welterweight class. He fought his last professional match in March 1966 by defeating Dan Whitlock as he was training and fighting his way up the ladder to attain a world title. Everything changed in August when he was drafted by the United States Army.
A father of five, Garland could have easily sought a deferment. His nation asked him to fight for them, and the patriot inside Garland Randall would not resist. Upon completion of his training as an infantry soldier, he was sent to Vietnam and served in the Recon Platoon of the 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Blue Spaders,” of the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division aka “The Big Red One.” When his fellow soldiers found out about his success in the boxing arena, they asked him why he was serving to which Garland responded “ I did not want to be another Muhammad Ali, I just want to do my part as an American citizen.” Nine months into his tour of duty, he was called home on emergency leave to Longview, Texas, to be by the side of one of his children who was undergoing a life threatening surgical procedure. During his brief leave home in the States, he told a reporter from the Houston Post that” I wish the war was over, but I don’t mind going back as it my job to do so. You don’t do these things by yourself, everything we do together.”
Upon his return to Vietnam after his emergency leave, Garland was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the 28th Infantry Regiment, also part of the Big Red One. The 28th Infantry Regiment is known as the “Black Lions of Cantigny” for their heroic actions in the Great War of 1918. When the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Terry Allen, found out that Garland was the father of five children, he assigned him to the Headquarters Company that was mostly based in the rear at their base camp in Lai Khe, Vietnam. This was an attempt to limit his exposure to combat and help preserve his ability to return home to his family once his tour of duty was complete.
In the summer of 1967, the Big Red One participated in a number of major operations to disrupt the communist forces of North Vietnam north of Saigon. On the morning of October 16th, the Black Lion soldiers found a very large and fortified enemy bunker system in an area near the famous Michelin Rubber Plantation. Unbeknownst to the Black Lions, the North Vietnamese Army had constructed an elaborate underground bunker complex containing about 1400 troops. Instead of attacking the bunker complex, the Black Lions wisely backed off and called in air strikes and artillery barrages to destroy the fortified positions. The following morning, Lt. Col. Allen, whose father was a much decorated general from the Second World War, decided to assess the damage to the bunker system by leading his men on a full frontal assault of the bunker complex. As a member of the Headquarters Platoon, Garland "Rip" Randall was no longer in the rear. He was part of the small detail of troops accompanying Lt. Col. Allen.
The morning of October 17th marked the beginning of the Battle of Ong Tranh, named for the small stream that traversed this part of South Vietnam. Not realizing that a majority of the bunker complex was underground and immune to aerial bombardment from airstrikes and artillery barrages, the Black Lions were ambushed by an entrenched and ready force of North Vietnamese Regular Army soldiers from the 271st Regiment that outnumbered them by over two to one. With mines planted along the trails, snipers in trees, and well concealed machine guns in underground positions, it was a death trap for the outnumbered Black Lions. Lt. Col. Allen along with his entire Headquarters Staff element and the entire complement of men from Alpha Company lost their lives that day. Garland was seen manning an M-60 Machine Gun when he was mortally wounded by shrapnel from an enemy grenade. His buddy Joe Karcynski, was one of the last Black Lions to see him alive as he strapped his mortally wounded friend into the door gunner's seat of an overloaded helicopter that was retrieving the wounded. Garland Jerome “Rip” Randall, Specialist 4th Class of the United States Army succumbed to his wounds on October 17, 1966, a casualty of the vicious little-known battle of Ong Tranh alongside his commander and 65 of his brother Black Lions. It remains a difficult loss to both the Big Red One and the sport of boxing.
Garland Jerome “Rip” Randall never made it to the ring to challenge an opponent for the title of World Champion. He certainly had the talent and strength of character that made him a worthy contender. Beyond the boxing ring, Garland Randall carried a far more noble virtue, that of a “Patriot.” When his nation called, he had much to lose and due to the unfair segregated world that he was brought up in, he had every excuse to decline his nation's request just as Muhammad Ali did. Garland Randall was a man who exuded patriotic ideals in a time when patriotism was rejected and frowned upon by the popular society. He stood tall, as a fighter, when asked to fight for his nation. The “Greatest” is an adjective that must modify another noun or pronoun and by itself it has no real meaning. I prefer the term “Noble” which describes an individual as “having fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals.” To me, “the Greatest there ever was” is the self- proclaimed title of a showman, and used by itself is a hollow term lacking definition. In the 1960’s world of boxing, Garland Jerome “Rip”: Randall stands above all others in terms of nobility, and he remains a virtual unknown. That should not stand.
Specialist Randall, Rest In Peace Sir. See you on the other side.
Thank you Mr. Karcynski. For the update yes, but more so for your service in Southeast Asia. You went and fought, you did your duty well and only in later years did your country appreciate what you men did. God Bless you and your fellow Vietnam vets, we can never repay you.