People & Events: Henry Mucci and the Rangers
"Mucci was so charismatic you couldn't believe it... If you ever had to go to war, that's the kind of man you wanted to go with."
--Alvie Robbins, PFC
"We all would have died for him, he was the very best."
--Vance Shears, Sergeant
"We knew he was selling us the blue sky, but we would have followed him anywhere."
-- Robert Prince, C Company Captain
Loved and Feared
Sometimes there are men that are larger than life. Tough, ambitious, and incredibly charismatic, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci was one of those men. His soldiers could not say enough about him. They loved him, they feared him, they would follow him anywhere. Even on what seemed like a suicide mission.
General Walter Krueger and his top G-2 man, Horton White, were the ones to choose Mucci. As Krueger and White considered the raid, they knew they would need an elite fighting force. Hampton Sides, author of Ghost Soldiers, writes: "[They] would need a group of men trained in stealth techniques and the tactics of lightning assault. The expeditioners must be in exceptional physical condition, as they would have to walk some 30 miles on foot in each direction, marching around the clock. They would have to be versatile, self-reliant, and extremely proficient with light arms, as the odds were better than good that they would encounter major enemy resistance along the trek."
Mucci had just such an outfit. In fact he had trained them: the 6th Ranger Battalion. Mucci was a man of vision. It was he who took the unit of Army mule skinners and turned them into the elite jungle fighting force known as the Army Rangers. For one year, in the mountains of New Guinea, Mucci trained his team, one of the first American special operations fighting forces.
Mule Skinners Become Rangers
The men Mucci had started with were for the most part boys from the farms and ranches of middle America -- big, strong men. Known as "mule skinners," they had been recruited to train in the mountains of New Guinea with heavy artillery carried on the backs of pack animals. By 1944, the Army considered the mule skinners obsolete, and General Krueger was looking to train a new special unit. Mucci was his man.
Testing Physical Limits
Ranger training under Mucci bordered on inhuman. A boxer, judo-expert, athlete, and former West Pointer, Mucci believed in training his men to the absolute limits of their physical capacities. He personally taught them all aspects of fighting: hand to hand combat, knifing, bayoneting and marksmanship. He led them on torturous exercises across the tropical New Guinea jungles, through treacherous rivers, and up mountainsides in the ferocious heat. Jungle combat, night combat, amphibious combat; Mucci taught and reveled in it all.
John Richardson, 6th Army Ranger, recalled: "I thought he was going to kill us. He called us rats, he called us everything but a child of God. And he told us, "I'm going to make you so d----- mean, you will kill your own grandmother.... I wondered why he was putting us through so much, but before it was over, there was no question about it, I knew why. And once he got us trained and picked out, he loved us to death. And there wasn't anything too good for us.... He knew what he was doing when he was training us."
Slave Driver -- With a Purpose
Bob Anderson, 6th Army Ranger remembered, "He worked us so hard that sometimes I'd think I hate that man and I'd double-time back to my camp and say, 'You can't kill me, I can do more. You can't give me enough, I can do more than you can give me.' So he had us in shape and once he got us trained he was the nicest man you ever saw. But he knew how to train men." No doubt, Mucci got his men in peak physical condition. They were ready for the raid. They were ready for anything.
Sometimes the fit is perfect. Mucci was the right man to train and lead the Rangers. He had all the qualities of a superb military leader: he knew men, he had vision, and he was decisive. Robert Prince said, "He made a Ranger battalion out of a bunch of mule skinners, and he inspired us and trained us -- and any success we had belongs to Colonel Mucci."
The rest is history. Mucci's actions and decisions on the raid were flawless. General Douglas MacArthur awarded Mucci the Distinguished Service Cross and said that the raid was " magnificent and reflected extraordinary credit to all concerned." The military promoted Mucci to full colonel.
Upon his return home, Mucci was treated as a national hero in his home town of Bridgeport, Connecticut. He unsuccessfully ran for Congress and later became an oil representative for a Canadian firm in Bangkok. An athlete till the end, he died at 86 in Florida from injuries related to swimming in rough surf.
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