Surrounded by Viet Cong using Russian tanks, Paul R. Longgrear could have surrendered, but that wasn’t a choice for an Army Ranger.
Longgrear of Pine Mountain, Ga., led the breakout in the battle of Lang Vei in 1968 and personally destroyed a machine gun nest to escape. During the 15-hour battle, he also destroyed two tanks and led his unit in destroying nine other tanks and enemy forces.
Longgrear, 68, a retired colonel, was one of 12 Rangers inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame Wednesday during a ceremony at Legacy Hall of the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts. Since 1992, the Ranger Hall of Fame has honored and preserved the spirit and contributions of America’s elite soldiers.
“It’s a Ranger’s dream to be in the Ranger Hall of Fame,” Longgrear said before he was presented a specially cast bronze medallion. “It never dawned on me I would be recommended for it.”
Although Longgrear escaped during the battle, he is still haunted by the bodies of 10 soldiers missing for more than 30 years. Two were found within a couple of months and more were found in 2005.
“Last month, I buried the last one missing for 41 years,” Longgrear said. “That is the thing that I’ll live with until I die, the fact that it was such a devastating battle and so many men lost their lives. Unfortunately, it took us all those years to recover their bodies. The Ranger has a motto: ‘We leave no one behind.’ We would not give up until we found them.”
Col. John King, commander of the Ranger Training Brigade at Fort Benning, said the ceremony continues a tradition of remembering those who have sacrificed. “As a unit, I think it’s critical that we never forget those individuals who sacrificed to get us where we are today,” King said. “What it means to be inducted means they have been selected by their peers.”
For 1st Sgt. Bonifacio M. Romo of Columbus, two Rangers had an impact on his career after he joined the Army in 1954. One was a member of Darby’s Rangers and the other was a platoon sergeant.
“Between those two guys, that is what influenced me to go into becoming a Ranger,” said Romo, an inductee. “It’s the top of the line. You can’t beat them.”
Romo, 75, served two tours in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, earning two Bronze Stars and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star for Valor. He also was a Ranger instructor.
The first sergeant has a simple rule of leadership: “It’s a matter of treating an individual the way you want to be treated. I have always lived by that. I don’t expect anybody to do anything that I wouldn’t do.”
Sgt. Maj. Robert Spencer, 71, said he was inspired to become a Ranger and Airborne soldier after he entered the Army in 1959. He served two tours in Vietnam, one with the 173rd Brigade. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Cross of Gallantry with Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
Spencer of Columbus said he was shot in the leg during his first tour in Vietnam near Saigon.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the wrong time,” he said. “I got wounded.”
During his career, Spencer spent more than 26 years in Airborne or Ranger assignments, including serving as a Ranger instructor and assisting in conducting the first Best Ranger Competition at Fort Benning.
He is proud of those who made it through the training and those who gave it their best.
“I’m extremely proud,” Spencer said. “It took some sacrifice to look and determine that I was worthy. My thanks is to them.”
Brig. Gen. William J. Leszczynski, the guest speaker for the event and a 2007 inductee of the Ranger Hall of Fame, said the men inducted represent the highest standards of excellence, individually and collectively.
“They represent the absolute best their nation provides,” he said.
He described them as a team of spirited thoroughbreds that required no push.
“The problem was to hold them in check,” Leszczynski said. “These words apply to the men inducted today.”