One of twelve siblings, Simon Ramos came into this world in 1932. The Y.O. Ranch on the fringes of Kerrville, Texas was his childhood playground, all 566,000 acres of it. Ramos recalled, “My dad was from Mexico and worked the Y.O. Ranch as a cowhand. I rode a small horse and helped on the cattle drives when I could. That was exciting for a kid.”
Ramos vividly remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor. “We were all in a state of shock, knowing the war had finally come to America. Two of my brothers enlisted. One served with the 101st Airborne and survived the heroic stand at Bastogne; the other brother fought across Africa in Patton’s armored division. We were all happy when the war was over.” Both Ramos brothers made it home.
Tragedy struck the family in 1947. “My dad passed away,” Ramos said. “My brother, Joe, quit the 10th grade and I dropped out of the 9th grade so we could find work to support the family. I worked construction. In 1952, I decided to join the Army. My brother said, ‘Simon, you will be getting up at 4:00am and humping a backpack.’ Well, I told my brother that I was getting up at 4:00am anyway and lugging a 65lb jackhammer. What was the difference?”
Leaving Texas dressed in a brown suit, Ramos started his Army career at Fort Riley, Kansas. “We weren’t issued clothes right away so I pulled KP in a brown suit,” he said, smiling. A guy had weekend liberty and asked to borrow my suit. I said, ‘sure.’ Never saw that suit again. But you know, that episode reminded me of Saint Martin, a Roman soldier, who gave half his coat to a beggar. Later in a vision, Sanctus Martinus Turonesis believed that beggar to be Jesus Christ. A Christian, Saint Martin ended his military career and later became a Bishop. I loved reading the Bible at night.”
A deep-seated Catholic faith would serve Simon Ramos well during his 35 years as an American soldier. He said, “After Fort Riley I volunteered for jump school and was sent to Fort Benning.” Asked if jumping out of planes was a bit intimidating, Ramos replied, “To tell you the truth I was too young and too damn dumb to be scared. I enjoyed it.”
Dispatched to Okinawa, within a month Ramos was fighting for his life with the 7th Infantry Division in Korea. Patrolling around Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill, young Simon Ramos participated in the horrific Battle of Pork Chop Hill in April, 1953. He recalled, “We had men up there, plus a company of Colombians. When we left the hill to regroup, the North Koreans and Chinese came in and caught the Colombians asleep. They killed every one of the Colombians.”
Sent back to retake Pork Chop Hill, of the 207 soldiers with Ramos only 87 survived. “We simply couldn’t do it and were finally pulled back,” he said. During the fighting, Ramos received shrapnel wounds. “I wasn’t worried about the wounds,” he said. “But they sent me back to receive medical aid for about 3 or 4 days before I could rejoin my unit.” Within a year, Ramos went from Pfc., Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, then to Sergeant 1st Class. “One of my buddies stationed in Japan asked me how in the world I made rank so fast,” he recalled. “Well, I told him the truth….if you survive, you get promoted; it’s that simple.”
Having survived Korea, E-6 Ramos was ordered to Fort Bragg, North Carolina as an assistant platoon leader. He recalled, “I didn’t know diddly-squat about garrison duty (training and normal day to day activity). Sgt. Green and Sgt. Clark became the wind beneath my wings. They gave me umpteen field manuals and training manuals to study, so I studied real hard. You know, I could lead men in combat but garrison was entirely different. I remember Sgt. Clark telling me, ‘get a clipboard, put some paper on it, scribble something on the paper, then go outside and walk really fast to wherever you’re going. Nobody will bother you.’ Well, guess what, it worked!”
Ramos spent most of his career in and out of Fort Bragg. “I joined the Special Forces in 1957,” he said. “That was before President Kennedy authorized the Green Beret for Special Forces.” Asked if the training was particularly tough, Ramos replied, “Not if you know conventional tactics. When you train indigenous personnel you train them in tactics. Our own training included work as infantrymen, engineers, intelligence, heavy weapons…you master all the MOS codes (military occupational specialties). Back then it took a soldier 3 to 5 years to earn the unit insignia on his beret.”
Special Forces always kept a ‘rucksack’ packed with the essentials for quick deployment. Ramos remembered, “I went in one morning and was asked, ‘Is your rucksack ready.’ I answered, ‘of course.’ The reply was, ‘good, you going to Laos today.’ It was in the early 60s, Southeast Asia was heating up for a major conflict. I was there about 6 months, way out in the boonies, training Meo tribesmen to fight the Communist Pathet Lao. Truthfully, I didn’t like the training schedule. It takes about 6 months for these people to start trusting you then suddenly you are pulled out to be replaced by unfamiliar, inexperienced units. Laotians had been at war for years….trust meant everything to them.”
Sent home for a 30 day leave, within 2 weeks Ramos was again asked, ‘Is your rucksack packed’ He recalled, “I thought ‘oh, hell, now where?’ Well, the where was Vietnam, specifically Cu Chi. I trained Vietnamese Rangers. Again, a big trust factor. They liked me because I was a senior NCO, been at war, fought major battles, and had almost 18 years in the military. Their first questions were, ‘how many years have you served, how many jumps have you made, how many wars have you fought?’ A big trust factor, experience counted.”
Many times the Vietnamese commented on their training that, ‘this is not the way the French taught us,’ to which Ramos replied, “Well, we are not the French. This is a new era, and a new way to fight.” Tactics are useless unless practiced properly. Ramos recalled, “We were on a patrol when a female Vietnamese on a bicycle tried to pass us on the road. The Vietnamese commander wanted to detain her, but Captain Moore, the American Captain, said, ‘she’s not hurting anyone, let her through.’ Well; she was the one that alerted the village up ahead. We got in a hellacious firefight. Shrapnel from a grenade severed the radial nerve in my left arm and went all the way through.” Evacuated to Tan Son Nhut for medical treatment, a doctor advised Ramos how lucky he had been. He recalled, “The doctor said the shrapnel barely missed the artery that touches the radial nerve. Had the artery been severed, I would have bled out.” (Ramos served a second tour in Vietnam in the late 60’s).
Ramos lost the use of his left hand for a long period. After recuperating at Walter Reed Hospital he was sent back to Fort Bragg as an instructor. Having studied Arabic, Ramos was assigned to the 6th Special Forces yet never went to the Middle East. Also a student of Portuguese, his next port-of-call ended up being Panama. He recalled, “Since I understood Portuguese, I trained Brazilian soldiers who speak the language. I also went to Chili and Colombia on various assignments.”
Ramos made Command Sergeant Major in 1979. In 1982, 30 years after leaving Korea he was sent back to Camp Casey near the DMZ separating North and South Korea. He said, “I moved around a lot, checking on the training of certain units, working with the men instead of brigade sergeants. I never told the brigade sergeants I was coming….that sort of gave them a major peeved factor. One of my drivers was a young Pfc. and I told him once that I didn’t really like the job I was assigned to do in Korea. He said something that stuck with me for the rest of my life, ‘Sergeant Major, it doesn’t matter how high you get, it’s how low you’re willing to reach.’ That’s pretty good logic from a young kid.”
In 1987, Command Sergeant Major Simon Ramos retired from the US Army after serving his country for 35 years. Why stay 35 years? He replied, “People ask me that all the time. I stayed because you can influence more by staying in than you can from the outside.”
His closing thoughts: “Army life was good to me. My wife Emily and I had a long discussion before we got married. We knew there would be times I’d be gone for months, and she accepted my commitment to my job. That was 62 years ago, so I guess things worked out pretty well.”
Simon and Emily have six children, five boys and one girl. Three of the boys, Ray, Ricky, and Robert graduated from Virginia Military Institute, and another, Ronnie, graduated from West Point.
On July 1, 2015, in a unique ceremony attended by several dignitaries at the Walk of Heroes War Memorial in Rockdale County, Command Sergeant Major Simon Ramos was awarded the Purple Heart he never received for his wounds in Vietnam along with the Oak Leaf Cluster for the wounds he received in Korea.
Well done, Command Sergeant Major, very well done.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.