Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr. photos from National Ranger Association Facebook. Composite by Coffee or Die.
Howard “Max” Mullen Jr. opened his Facebook at 2 a.m. Tuesday morning and was stunned by the news: The man who long ago made him want to be a Ranger had died. Retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr., who fought in three wars and who today’s Best Ranger competition is named for, died over the weekend at 97.
Mullen, who retired as a master sergeant and was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2013, said he owed his career to a chance meeting with Grange.
“I’ll never forget that day,” said Mullen. It was 1978, and Mullen was in Korea for his first major training exercise. A helicopter landed in front of his squad and Grange stepped out. “A squad leader on my gun track told me I better not screw up or I will have hell to pay."
Retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr., left, at the Ranger School graduation of his grandson Matthew Grange. On the right is Grange Jr.'s son, retired Maj. Gen. David L. Grange. Photo from National Ranger Association/Facebook.
He added, “I was just an 18-year-old young skinny Black kid from Zion, Illinois. I was so nervous.”
“Just relax, young man,” Mullen remembered Grange saying. “Where are you from?”
The two talked for 30 minutes. Grange asked Mullen about his home life and hobbies, then asked what he planned to do in the Army.
“I remember looking at his chest,” Mullen said. “He had those jump wings, and he had those two stars on him, meaning he did combat jumps. And then I remember — I’ll never forget — I saw that Ranger tab on his left shoulder. And I said, ‘Sir, I want to be a Ranger.’”
Mullen said, “I knew right then and there.”
Retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr., at right, with two winners of the annual Ranger Competition, which bears Grange’s name, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Photo from National Ranger Association/Facebook.
Grange stood with Mullen in the cold, telling him all about the Rangers, then turned to his aide, Capt. Danny McKnight, who would go on to lead Rangers in combat in Somalia in the battle chronicled in the movie Black Hawk Down, and said, “Take this young man’s information and set him up for success.”
Three months later, when Mullen was one of just two soldiers in his battalion to earn an Expert Infantryman Badge, Grange led the award ceremony. As Grange pinned the award on Mullen, he asked him. “You still want to be a Ranger?”
“I thought he forgot about it,” Mullen said. “I said ‘Yes, sir.’”
Mullen would go on to spend most of his 26-year career as a Ranger.
Howard “Max” Mullen Jr., left, and David L. Grange Jr., when Grange presented Mullen with the Expert Infantryman Badge. Photo courtesy of Howard Mullen.
“It’s all because of him,” Mullen told Coffee or Die Magazine on Tuesday. “My career would’ve been nothing if it wasn’t for Gen. Grange.”
Grange enlisted in the Army in 1943, serving as a parachute infantryman in World War II. He saw action in several campaigns in the war, including Rome-Arno, Southern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe.
In 1950, Grange commissioned as an infantry officer and served in Korea and Vietnam. By the end of the Korean conflict, he was one of just a handful of soldiers to earn three gold stars on his combat wings for three combat jumps.
Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr. Photos from National Ranger Association/Facebook.
But he is best remembered in the Ranger community as a driving force behind the development and activation of today’s modern Ranger Training Battalion. As a captain in the 1950s, Grange was an instructor at the Ranger course, then a small part of Fort Benning’s School of Infantry. Grange said in an interview at the 2015 Best Ranger competition that the Army had considered reducing the size of the Ranger program in postwar years. But by the early 1970s, Grange was named commander of the Ranger Department within Fort Benning’s larger School of Infantry as it prepared to stand up as the independent Ranger Training Battalion.
“You hear ‘legend’ thrown around a lot, but this soldier was definitely a legend,” said retired Command Sgt. Major Jeff Mellinger, a fellow Ranger Hall of Fame member with Grange. “I’m one of a cast of thousands of fans. I’m just another old soldier that had the great benefit of being able to know him, watch him, listen to him, and occasionally talk to him.”
Grange’s son, David L. Grange, also served as a Ranger and a squadron commander in Army Special Operations Command before retiring as a major general. Grange’s grandson Matthew is a Ranger School graduate.
“My God, did he set an example,” said Mullen. “I’m so blessed, and I thank God that he brought this man into my life.”
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Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
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