Ranger Hall of Fame: SGT Martin Watson, Abraham Lincoln & Tom Hanks

We signed out this morning for leave at tables setup in the Ranger Hall of Fame, a large room at Ranger Training Brigade Headquarters which has pictures along the wall of Rangers who have been inducted. Behind the “A to G” table was the group of inaugural inductees, who were mostly Rangers from history, like COL Mosby, MG Merrill and MAJ Robert Rogers. At the bottom though, was a picture of one of the scariest looking men I have ever seen. It was a black and white photograph of a shirtless, muscular man. He was bearded, but it wasn’t a 21st century cool-guy beard. It seemed legit. Blackbeard legit. The name was SGT Martin Watson.

After signing out on leave, I scribbled his name down on the back of my leave form and told myself to look him up later. Which I did. Here is his story:

SGT Watson: Ranger
SGT Watson: Ranger

Sergeant Watson served with the 1st Ranger Battalion in World War II and fought in the Northern Africa, Sicily and Central Europe campaigns. He was captured by the Germans at Cassino, Italy and remained a prisoner of war for fifteen months. Sergeant Watson attempted escape on one occasion but was recaptured. He was repatriated following World War II and volunteered for the 4th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) during the Korean War. Sergeant Watson and three other Rangers were detected by the enemy while on a mission 65 miles behind Chinese lines. Following a foiled rescue attempt, Sergeant Watson, a downed U.S. Navy pilot, and nineteen South Korean agents evaded capture by the North Koreans for ten days with no food or supplies. After his capture, the North Koreans repeatedly tortured Sergeant Watson for attempting escape on three separate occasions. Sergeant Watson was the last U.S. serviceman repatriated following the Korean War. He earned the Silver Star for valorous actions during the Korean War, and the Bronze Star for his resilience and refusal to cooperate with the enemy after repeated torture. Sergeant Watson’s iron will and unshakable resolve are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and clearly illustrate that surrender is not a Ranger word.

I’m not sure I have ever heard of any other soldier who qualified for a POW Medal with an oak leaf cluster, but apparently it’s a real thing. Pretty bad-ass.

Anyway, while looking up information on SGT Watson, I came across two interesting Ranger Hall of Famers: President Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Tom Hanks.

Abraham Lincoln: Ranger
Abraham Lincoln: Ranger

Early in 1832 he was elected captain of a company of the 4th Illinois Regiment, which served during part of the Black Hawk War (1832). When his company was discharged, Lincoln volunteered as a private in a company of the Illinois frontier guard, whose soldiers were known as Rangers, scouts, and spies. For two and one-half weeks during the late spring of 1832 he patrolled the northwestern frontier of Illinois with his company, on the lookout for Indian war parties. When the company’s Rangers were discharged, Lincoln immediately reenlisted in another company of the frontier guard. He and the company served a three week tour of duty during the early summer by scouting in advance of the army as it moved northward into Wisconsin. After his military service Lincoln became a prominent Illinois attorney, a popular political leader, and President of the United States. His strong, successful leadership as the Union’s President during the War Between the States (1861-65) made him a great American folk hero. He is often considered the best example of the greatness that can be produced by a democracy.

Mr. Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks: Ranger
Tom Hanks: Ranger

Tom Hanks is inducted as an honorary member into the Ranger Hall of Fame for his honorable and accurate portrayal of a Ranger Company Commander during World War II in the movie Saving Private Ryan, and his continued commitment to ensuring the honor of those that served was properly recognized through his service as the National Spokesman for the World War II Memorial Campaign and Honorary Chairman of the D-Day Museum Capital Campaign. Although a renowned Oscar winning actor, his service to the Ranger community through his untiring efforts, numerous interviews and public appearances helped the World to remember the sacrifices and courage of our Armed Forces during World War II. He was instrumental in assisting in the funding for, and the dedication of, the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, and the National D-Day Museum in Louisiana. Mr. Hanks said in an interview: “I am fascinated by this period and see it as something that very much relates to how we live our lives today. The world is still, by and large, a question of what is right and what is wrong. And the best example that we can have at our disposal is to take a look at what happened during the Second World War.”† Mr. Hanks also helped write and produce the critically acclaimed and Emmy Award winning miniseries Band of Brothers.† He hoped that Band of Brothers may remind Americans exactly what The Greatest Generation sacrificed for us. “As filmmakers, we certainly hope to entertain those in search of a great story. We also hope to enlighten those who are unaware of history and those who are unappreciative of the human cost of preserving our great freedoms.” Through his efforts on many fronts from actor, to filmmaker, to spokesman, to chairman, Mr. Hanks has enlightened Americans and the World on the most honorable profession; that of a Soldier.

Who knew.

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