Rangers lead the way: the U.S. Army's first and only all-black Ranger unit

Kaylah Jackson
February 06, 2018 - 10:39 am

Photo courtesy of 2nd Airborne Rangers Facebook group

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Herc Dias, now 87, enlisted in the US Army after high school with dreams of becoming a paratrooper. He had no idea he would become part of a historical unit, the only one of its kind.

Dias would eventually find himself apart of the 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne). Attached to the 7th Infantry Division, the 2nd Airborne Rangers was U.S. Army's first and only all-black Airborne Ranger unit under the command of black officers that served in the Korean War. 

Black men and women who served in the military before desegreation often fought two wars: one overseas and one at home. Although the military was desgregated in 1948, there were a few all-black units that served during wartime, including the 2nd Airborne Rangers. 

“We thought we were special, we were three time volunteers, we trained like hell. He trained us twice as hard as our brother white rangers, because failure was not an option," said Dias.

Photo courtesy of 2nd Airborne Rangers Facebook group

They trained under the direction of officers from WWII at Fort Benning, Georgia and on New Years Eve in 1950, they landed in Korea. 

“We’d go out on patrols and we’d burn everything we saw. We had these big tents that we could sleep in. Every night, we had guys guarding the railroad station and my squad, we were guarding the MSR (main supply route) because we had foxholes on both sides of the road. We were guarding the medical collecting stations...we had holes we’d sleep in at night," he said.

Typical infantry companies had about 230 men, but the Ranger companies at the time, including the 2nd Airborne Rangers, were made up of 100 men with four officers. They served wherever needed: on foot patrols, riding shotgun in freight trains and pulling secruity on various routes.

By March of that 1950, they had fought valiantly, even experiencing an ambush on railroad tracks, which Dias clearly recalls:

“We were on a patrol, walking on the railroad tracks, we were getting close to where the medical collecting station was where we were guarding. I never saw it or heard it but he (the company commander) said 'get off the track, trains coming’ and we got off the tracks and man, before you knew it, it looked like every rifle in the world was shooting at us." said Dias. 

"The guerillas had taken over a train. I don’t even remember if we fired back on them. It was maybe 20 guys and the lieutenant, we were lucky though. By the time they stopped firing, they were going into a tunnel. We only had one guy got hit that day, it grazed his head but he survivied that."

Photo courtesy of 2nd Airborne Rangers Facebook group

Seeing action didn't end there as the 2nd Airborne Rangers saw combat for seven months, but the tipping point for Dias and many of his fellow soldiers was entering Taegu.

“The Company Commander said ‘we're going to Taegu,’ we were gonna go join the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team and we said ‘oh sh***. This is it.' They send us to the 187th Airborne that means were gonna jump baby, so we knew a combat jump was coming” he said.

The 2nd Airborne Rangers had already made history as the first all black Ranger unit and now, they would be the first to make a combat jump.

Photo courtesy of the 2nd Airborne Rangers Facebook page

“The day were were getting out of the plane to make this combat jump our XO says 'Today, you're making history,' I'm part of that. I feel honored," said Dias.

While Dias got out of the Army after the Korean war, and the Ranger units were deactived, many of the 2nd Airborne Rangers went on to fight in Vietnam and even joining the Special Forces.

Although the Korean War, was the first official war with a desegregated military, the history of this all-black unit was not long ago, and their achievements in battle made way for many Army Rangers to come.