A Majority of One
29 August 2005
The live grenade fell within the five man Lurp team's tiny perimeter. Amid the noise and fury of the jungle battle, one among the small Cav recon unit reacted quickly to the new threat.
“GRENADE!” yelled PFC James F. McIntyre of Watertown, New York, as he threw his rucksack on the explosive then leaped a top it to deflect the blast.
“One man with courage makes a majority.” Andrew Jackson
The sudden explosion hurled the 19-year-old Ranger up and back then slammed him down in a single violent motion. His head was pounding and his chest ached, and for a moment or so the firefight ceased to exist. It quickly swam back in to focus, as the young soldier scrambled back to his knees to assist his lightly wounded team mates in defending their position.
His legs hurt and the small burning shrapnel fragments left streams of blood flowing down his thighs. But he kept up the return fire, refusing to give in to the pain.
The team leader was calling for an extraction, and the rescue helicopter was 20 minutes out. The mission was compromised, and it was time to get out, even though the firefight had turned around in their favour.
“You okay?” the team leader asked the new Ranger, whose quick thinking had probably just saved the lives of the entire team.
McIntyre shrugged. “Yeah, I guess,” he said, still covering the tangled wall of jungle to his front “Just flesh wounds,” he added.
“Hold on. We'll be out of here soon,” the team leader consoled, and then muttered, shaking his head to his assistant team leader, “Unbelievable!” The other team leader members nodded in stunned agreement, unsure how to praise the new guy for what he had just done.
Even later, as they found their appreciation, the quiet, self-effacing Ranger only shrugged off their compliments. The team leader didn't shrug them off, however. The veteran patrol leader had been so impressed with McIntyre's courage and coolness under fire that he explained in detail the entire sequence of events to their commanding officer, Captain George Paccerelli. The CO was impressed as well. Still new to H Company (Ranger), 1st
Cavalry Division, Jim McIntyre found himself gathering a reputation for what Ernest Hemingway once described as “grace under fire”
On McIntyre's first mission as a Lurp, while his team was being extracted from a jungle pick-up zone, their helicopter crashed, plummeting down through the hundred foot trees. The new Ranger was momentarily knocked unconscious, but when he came to he quickly helped the more seriously wounded from the wreckage. He then helped secure the perimeter until a medevac helicopter and a quick reaction force could arrive on the scene later that evening.
As the critically wounded were lifted out to a distant field hospital, McIntyre volunteered to fly to a nearby fire support base for treatment of his own injuries.
Cut and bruised and suffering from a mild concussion, the quiet Ranger didn't have time to recover fully, as NVA rockets and mortars began to fall over the small jungle outpost, causing cries of “MEDIC!” to ring across the battle ground.
When the shelling ceased, the bugles began to blare, signalling the beginning of the enemy's ground attack.
“We need help over here!” someone yelled. The cherry Lurp grabbed his rifle and sprinted towards the bunker line the enemy was trying to breach.
By sunrise the ground attack had failed. The perimeter defences had held. Helicopter gunships circled the surrounding area as medevacs flew in and out removing the dead and wounded. When a helicopter finally arrived to take him out, McIntyre returned to the Ranger company area dead tired and still sore from his injuries.
“Captain Paccerelli wants to see you!” the first sergeant said. The Ranger nodded, dropped his rucksack and dusted off his uniform.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” McIntyre said, reporting as ordered, throwing in a reasonably acceptable salute.
Paccerelli returned the salute and offered him a seat. “I'm thinking about transferring you back to Signal.”
“Sir?” came the reply. Did I do something wrong, sir?”
Paccerelli laughed, shaking his head. “No, you didn't. I was just thinking that you've had one hell of a first mission, and maybe you'd like to go back to your old unit.”
“I'd like to stay, sir,” he said.
“Carry on,” the officer responded, dismissing the soldier but not his importance to the company, the importance that affirmed itself with this latest test of courage.
A few days later, before an H Company formation in Phuoc Vinh, McIntyre would receive a Silver Star for gallantry in action, a Purple Heart and a promotion to Sergeant E-5, at Paccerelli's insistence and with the division commander's concurrence.
Paccerelli said McIntyre's act was one of the quickest thinking responses he had ever heard of any soldier making when faced with such an impossible situation.
“It was an incredible act of heroism!” he said. “Hence you had a Ranger who saw a threat to his team and didn't hesitate to act, and when he did he was smart enough to use a full rucksack as a shield to help nullify the affects of the grenade.”
On later patrols McIntyre would win several Bronze Stars for valour, but remained low keyed about the decorations. “I had good people around me.”
Jon Varesko, of Rices Landing, Pennsylvania, an ex-Ranger who served with McIntyre in the 82nd
Airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and who volunteered for H Company with the New Yorker in July 1969, shortly after their arrival in Vietnam, said it was “typical McIntyre. He wasn't a glory seeker and he didn't really care about medals. He just wanted to be a good Ranger.”
By Varesko's and others' accounts that's exactly what McIntyre became. “He was a natural in the filed and quickly became someone we all looked up to.”
Earning a position as a team leader a short time later and the call sign of “Slashing Talon 4-2,” Mack, as he was better known, led successful long range patrols throughout War Zone C and along the Cambodian border deep inside enemy territory, ambushing enemy patrols or gathering much needed intelligence.
However, in mid November, 1969, in Song Be province, McIntyre's luck ran out…but not his courage. His five-man patrol suddenly came face to face with 45 North Vietnamese soldiers.
In the hectic jungle battle that followed, two of the young NCO's teammates were killed and a third wounded, while McIntyre and the remaining Lurp received minor wounds. Realizing there was nothing to do but keep fighting, McIntyre repeatedly charged small groups of enemy soldiers, tossing grenade after grenade and urging his surviving teammate to do like wise. Alternating between M-16, M-14 and M-79, McIntyre made the enemy believe they had encountered a much larger American force.
The tactic worked, and the enemy force withdrew.
When a quick reaction force arrived on station and were unable to rappel in the dark, the officer in charge told the team leader to leave his dead and to escape and evade to a landing zone 800 meters away.
McIntyre refused. “I won't leave my people,” he said. “Either we all go or no one does.”
We'll recover the bodies in the morning,” came the response.
“No,” he said, flatly. Team members in life, they were still part of his team in death. The officer in charge tried giving the Ranger team leader a direct order. Again McIntyre refused, knowing that the opinion of the leader on the ground overrode the pilot's in the air. Meanwhile, another quick reaction force made up of fellow Rangers from H Company were racing to the team's location ready to rappel in and rescue their buddies.
At an impasse, McIntyre and the fifth Ranger were prepared to wait until the QRF from the Ranger company arrived. The matter was settled when the squadron commander for the 1st
of the 9th
Cav decided to use his personal helicopter to pull out the Lurp team. Hovering over the contact site, the crew chief lowered a jungle penetrator to the ground and brought up the team one at a time, with McIntyre coming up last, covering their escape under sporadic enemy fire.
McIntyre received a second Silver Star and another Purple Heart, but the medals weighted heavily on his conscience. He would never fully recover form the loss of his teammates, believing even years later that he could have done something more or different to change the final outcome. The self-doubt would haunt him for decades afterwards.
“There was nothing more he or anyone could have done,” said the fifth team member. “We had just come out of a thick jungle and found the trail when the enemy force came around the bend. It was all action and reaction, and McIntyre didn't waiver. In fact, what he did was amazing. He was John Wayne and Rambo all rolled in to one. You have to remember we were up against 45 enemy soldiers and after the initial attack, when he had lost two people almost immediately, Mack took the fight to them. He was going to save the rest of us and he did. He was a real hero in the best sense of the word. Years later, I told him I was proud to have been on his team. I meant it then and I mean it now. He was the best Ranger I ever knew.”
Varesko agrees. “He was the best we had in Hotel Company and maybe one of the real heroes of the Vietnam War.”
June 1994, James Francis McIntyre collapsed after leaving a café in Watertown, New York. He never regained consciousness and died of a brain aneurysm. He was 44 years of age.
This article was originally published in Behind The Lines magazine. VietnamGear.com has reproduced this article with the kind permission of Gary Linderer.
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