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Ralph B. Lawson enlisted in the army at the Federal Building in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 6, 1938 at the age of seventeen. He was sent to Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma where he received basic training and was assigned to the 18th Field Artillery, a horse-drawn artillery unit. In December, 1938, when the 12th Field Artillery based at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas was motorized, Ralph was one of the soldiers that rode the horses and equipment the 400 plus miles from San Antonio to Lawton. The trip took about 5 weeks. The soldiers would stop for the night at farms, ranches and county fairgrounds. After arriving back at Fort Sill, Ralph's education continued. He learned how the battalion's battlefield communications network operated. He was taught the art of dispensing telephone wire off a reel cart pulled by a team of horses. Ralph quickly excelled at the operation of field telephones at the forward observer and gun positions as well as the switchboard that connected it all together. It was his mastery of these communications skills that allowed him the ability to quickly rise to the rank of signals sergeant. Ralph was later transferred to the 74th Field Artillery stationed at Fort Ord, California. He was discharged July 9, 1941.

36 days later, on August 14, 1941, Ralph re-enlisted in the army in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was sent to Camp Roberts, California to retake basic training and to learn to drive a heavy truck. After completing training, he was sent to Fort Warren Wyoming as an active duty member of the 183rd Field Artillery, Idaho National Guard. Ralph was at Fort Warren when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

While on maneuvers with the Idaho National Guard at Camp Murray, Washington, Ralph visited the main post at Fort Lewis. He found himself at the stables inquiring about the unit and asking to speak with the commanding officer. After a brief informal interview, he asked to transfer into the unit. Ralph's request to transfer to the 98th Mule Pack Artillery was granted. The 98th was soon sent to Camp Carson, Colorado to train with the 10th Mountain Division. By order of General MacArthur, the 98th was transported by troop train to Newport News, Virginia to begin the journey to Port Moresby, New Guinea via the Panama Canal, the Society Islands, New Caledonia, and Australia.

In September, 1943, President Roosevelt issued a request for volunteers for a dangerous and hazardous mission. Ralph was among 129 members of the 98th that volunteered. The volunteers were transported back to Australia to await the arrival of the troop ship USS Lurline. The Lurline contained other volunteers of Ralph's new unit, the 5307th Composite Unit. They soon arrived in Bombay, India where they traveled by train to Deogarh, India for five weeks of specialized training in long range penetration. After reviewing army personnel records, Lieutenant Logan Weston hand-picked Ralph and the other men in his reconnaissance and intelligence platoon. At the end of training, General Frank D. Merrill assumed command of the unit. A reporter later dubbed them "Merrill's Marauders" for their hit and run guerilla tactics.

On February 22, 1944, the 5307th became the first U.S. ground combat force to fight on the continent of Asia in World War II. Crossing into Japanese controlled Burma, via the Ledo Road, the members of the 5307th traversed the many mountains, rivers, and dense jungles of Burma that stood before them. They faced the experienced 18th division of the Japanese army, strange and exotic tropical diseases, fatigue, starvation, and difficult terrain without the possibility of reinforcements. The Marauders relied entirely upon parachute airdrop for re-supply. This sometimes meant that the soldiers would go hungry for days if the weather was bad or the fighting too intense. K-rations were the primary source of food during the campaign. Designed for three to four day maneuvers, they did not provide adequate caloric intake for the strenuous activity asked of the volunteers and only allowed for a controlled starvation. Medical evacuation of the sick and wounded also proved difficult. It sometimes required that the soldiers being evacuated would have to be carried miles to a clearing so that they could be loaded onto small L-4 or L-5 observation planes to be flown to more advanced medical care. Mules were used to carry light machine guns, mortars, radio equipment and other vital supplies. The difficult terrain sometimes required the men to unload the mule, carry the load up the difficult section of the trail, reload the mule and continue on. The Marauders worked closely with Detachment 101 of the O.S.S. and the indigenous population, a tactic still used by United States special forces. During the battle of Nhpum Ga Hill, the need for artillery arose when one of the Marauder's units was cut off and surrounded by a superior Japanese force. Former members of the 98th Mule Pack Artillery were familiar with the operation of the pack howitzer and quickly assembled two guns within fifteen minutes of their being air dropped. Ralph was called on for his communication experience to act as a forward observer telephone operator. The artillery turned the tide of the battle and allowed the rescue of the besieged unit.

Fighting in 3 major battles and 32 minor engagements, the Marauders were given a Presidential Unit Citation for capturing the Japanese airfield at Myitkyina. After the fall of the airfield, Ralph, like others in his unit, was experiencing the side effects from months of jungle fighting, fatigue, improper diet, and a fever of unknown origin. He was evacuated to the 20th Field Hospital in Assam province, India. By the time they had completed their mission, over eighty-five percent of the men of the 5307th were unfit for duty due to tropical disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, or battle wounds. After the fall of the city of Myitkyina, those soldiers who would be unfit for combat within sixty days were sent back to the United States. Ralph traveled by train to Karachi, India, now Karachi, Pakistan, then by air on to Tehran, Iran, Cairo, Egypt, Tripoli, Lybia, Casablanca, Morocco, Bermuda, Miami, Florida, and by train to Hot Springs, Arkansas. The 1850th Service Command Unit, Camp Chaffee, Arkansas would serve as Ralph's last post. It was at Camp Chaffee that Ralph was discharged on June 2, 1945. He married Ida Bell Estep the next day in Wagoner, Oklahoma. They have been married ever since. Ralph and Ida settled in Catoosa, Oklahoma where they have lived the last 44 years and raised their two boys. After retiring in 1983, Ralph has been active in the Disabled American Veterans, and volunteered at The Claremore Veteran's Hospital, The Veteran's Administration Hospital in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and the Tulsa Outpatient Clinic of the Veteran's Administration. Ralph is proud of his army past and doesn't hesitate to share his experiences with anyone he meets.

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98th Field Artillery Pack

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Battery C 74th FA. class photo




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Sergeant Lawson served in the following units:

18th Field Artillery Fort Sill, Oklahoma
74th Field Artillery Fort Ord, California
183rd Field Artillery Fort Warren, Wyoming
98th Mule Pack Artillery Fort Lewis, Washington
Port Moresby, New Guinea
5307th Composite Unit India
1850th Service Command Unit Camp Chaffee, Arkansas

Awards and Citations:

Bronze Star
American Service Ribbon
American Defense Ribbon
Asiatic-Pacific Medal
Combat Infantry Badge
Good Conduct Medal
Presidential Unit Citation
China Victory Medal Taiwan, Republic of China

2004 Inductee Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame

Ralph B. Lawson

At Fort Sill In Front Of The Infantry Barracks


















Born: June 10, 1921
Middletown, Ohio


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