Garland “Rip” Randall: A Remembrance
By Steven J. Canton, June 3, 2013
(Originally published in THE BOXING WORLD, July 2013)

While watching a recent fight on Memorial Day weekend, I started thinking about my time in the Air Force during the 1960’s, the boxers of that era, the Vietnam War, and the turbulent times we lived in then. I had been boxing while stationed in Europe and was looking forward to returning to the states and embarking on my own professional career. In June 1966 I received my orders to Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. The U.S. had become involved in the Vietnam War the previous year and I felt lucky to be fighting in various boxing rings, rather than in the steaming jungles where some of my friends were sent and never returned.

Texas had many excellent boxers campaigning at that time and I paid particular attention to those who were close to my weight. A couple of months after arriving back in the states Curtis Cokes won the WBA welterweight title over fellow Texan Manuel Gonzalez via 15 round decision. It was the first (and only) time a boxer would later win a world title against the same fighter he fought and defeated in his pro debut.

Garland “Rip” Randall was another top Texas welterweight at that time. He came from the tough streets of Tyler, Texas where he was well liked and an excellent athlete. Despite his background, he seemed to have a quick smile and always went out of his way to help others. He was a natural fighter and turned pro a few months after his 16th birthday on July 15, 1957, on the undercard of heavyweight contender Cleveland Williams. He scored a second round K.O. over James Singleton. Randall was very busy, compiling a 7-2 record in his first nine months as a young pro. He quickly became a fan favorite displaying a very busy non-stop fearless style, and seemed to be on his way to stardom.

Maintaining a busy schedule during his almost decade long career he shared the ring with such notables as Curtis Cokes, Luis Manuel Rodriguez, Nino Benvenuti, and Manuel Gonzalez. It was his stirring victories over top contenders Kenny Lane and Isaac Logart and his 6th round stoppage victory over former world champ Virgil Atkins that elevated him to #3 in the world ratings. However, it was local rival Manuel Gonzalez, who kept him from attaining a title opportunity; losing a decision, getting a draw, and then getting stopped by him. In his last professional fight, Randall stopped Dean Whitlock in the ninth round on March 1, 1966, in Houston, Texas. He was hopeful of regaining his past form and obtaining a coveted world title shot when he was drafted into the Army that August.

There have been many high profile athletes, including other boxers, who have served in the military throughout the years, but very few have actually seen combat duty. Randall was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26 Infantry, “The Blue Spaders” for the first part of his tour of duty. When asked why he was drafted by the Army since he was married with five children, Randall just smiled and said that he wanted to do his part as an American Citizen.

Nine months later, he was granted emergency leave to return to his home in Longview, Texas to be with his son Garland Jr., who was undergoing a life-saving heart operation. While there, and before returning to combat in Vietnam, he told John Hollis, of the Houston Post, that he “wished the war was over but didn’t mind going back as it was his job to do so.” “You don’t do these things by yourself. Everything we do, we do together. That’s why it’s so hard on you when your buddies get it…I am not going to die in Vietnam. A lot of guys have gone over and come back. I am going to come back and I am going to box again.” – Garland Jerome “Rip” Randall, July 1967.

Three months later, he was gone.

Upon returning to Vietnam, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry (“The Black Lions”). When it was learned that he was married with children, he was sent back to the rear to Lai Khe. Somehow, he ended up with a HQ group that LTC Terry Allen brought out to pursue the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF). On October 17, 1967, the Battle of Ong Thanh, a little known battle, took place and the “Black Lions” were ambushed and decimated, and virtually wiped out by the enemy. Commander Allen was killed along with 60 soldiers and another 75 were wounded, this from two half-strength companies and a headquarters section totaling fewer than 200 men. Randall was hit by shrapnel while manning a machine gun. Shortly after, his good friend and fellow “Black Lion,” Joe Karczynski, put him on a chopper. He said that Randall told him that he “wasn’t going to make it.” Karczynski said that he always wondered about that, there were no medics available but he saw a chopper taking off with the wounded, and though there was no room on it anywhere except an empty door gunner seat, he strapped him to it and thought that he was going to make it. Randall was 26 years old.

Garland “Rip” Randall was posthumously awarded the Bronze and Silver Star medals for gallantry and is buried at the Houston National Cemetery.

He is a true American hero who voluntarily took the road less traveled (when many were looking for excuses to escape from active duty). He felt it was his duty to serve his country and he gave the ultimate sacrifice in doing so.

It is our duty to keep his memory alive.

Garland Jerome“Rip” Randall born May 25, 1941, died October 17, 1967 and buried on October 27, 1967, Plot: C, 397, Houston National Cemetery.




Category: Steve's Corner

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