I AM THE STORYTELLER...
The great Joe Foss said it - "Those who lived have to represent those who didn't make it."
This is what drives men like Vietnam combat veterans Jim Shelton and Tom Hinger - to make sure that so long as they draw breath, the memory of the men they served with, their fellow Black Lions who didn't make it, will never fade. My admiration for those men and their devotion to their fallen mates is what drives me to assist them with the Black Lions Award program.
October is always an especially poignant time for Jim and Tom and the others who lived, because on October 17, 1967, in Vietnam, their unit was chopped to pieces in an ambush at a place called Ong Thanh.
This year, 2002, Jim, former Delaware football player, retired US Army General, and honorary colonel of the 28th Infantry (Black Lions) Association, was with Tom at Fort Jackson, South Carolina - home of the the Black Lions - to attend a memorial service for the Black Lions killed at Ong Thanh. At left, General Shelton is shown addressing the officers and NCO's of the Black Lions, telling them about the brave men who died in combat 35 years ago last Thursday - representing those who didn't make it.
He was kind enough to share with me the story he told of one of those Black Lions...
I am the Storyteller. I tell stories of brave men who sacrificed themselves for their comrades and their country.
Ray Neal Gribble was a man like you and me. He was 6'2" tall and a handsome man. He was 23 years old, and married to his high school sweetheart. He had been chosen as a squad leader because of his leadership ability. He was a Specialist Fourth Class, a draftee.
As the operations officer I got around to all the Black Lions companies. I watched leaders operate with their men. Ray Neal Gribble stood out as a leader. You could tell by the way his men performed. Their weapons were clean, their positions were well prepared.
One evening just at dusk I came upon Ray Gribble quietly reading the Bible to 3 or 4 of his men. As nighttime grew near the fear of the darkness affects all men.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil--for thou art with me--thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."
I needed an RTO. My man was going home. I asked Captain Jim George to release Ray Gribble to Battalion HQ to be Dauntless 3 Romeo, RTO for the Battalion S3. Cpt George protested losing this good leader. I felt he had done his job well as a squad leader and I needed a man who knew the jungle and what was going on and who could render reports and assert himself on the radio when he had to.
It was a demanding job but it was safer than a squad leader's job. The battalion HQ in the jungle was vulnerable to attack, but we always traveled within the security of the rifle companies.
Ray Gribble became my RTO. He did an excellent job for about ten days. Whenever he had the chance he would stop by A Company to see his old squad. Then one day he said to me, "Sir, can I talk to you about something?"
"Sure, go ahead", I said.
"Sir," he said, "I need to go back to my squad. They are getting screwed up. I need to go back to A Company."
I said, "I need you here You've served your time down there. The battalion needs you here!"
He looked into my eyes with a hurt expression on his face. Tears began to roll down both his cheeks. He said, "Please, sir- I need to go back to my men!"
"I am the good shepherd. I know mine--and mine know me. And I will lay down my life for my flock".
Ray Neal Gribble was scared in the jungle. We all were. Brave men conquer their fear and do their job. Brave men think and care about their comrades. Ray Neal Gribble taught ME that!
He knew what it was like in Muncie, Indiana in the spring. Fresh green grass, the smell of rain, milkshakes, laughter, a loving wife, clean sheets, freedom to do what you wanted. In the jungle he did what he felt he needed to do. He wasn't superman. But he knew what he had to do.
"I am the good shepherd. I KNOW MINE--AND MINE KNOW ME. And I will lay down my liife for my flock"
This was a man! His selfless act has inspired me to try to be a man like him. I was a 32 year old professional soldier. A Major. He was a 23 year old draftee. His example of courage and selflessness has inspired me for 35 years. What he did, as far as I'm concerned, is what IT is all about! To me, Ray Neal Gribble is immortal. A man above men.
I am the Storyteller. I tell stories of men of courage, bravery and sacrifice.
"No man hath greater love than he lay down his life for his men"
I tell the story of Ray Neal Gribble, Squad Leader, Company A, 2d Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Killed in action. 17 October 1967.Vietnam. May he rest in peace. Amen"
(In the photo above, General Shelton is standing at the head of the Ray Neal Gribble classroom)