LUTHER JAMES “JIM” DOSS JR
February 9, 1948 – April 30, 1970
Jim was born in Max Meadows, VA to Luther James Doss (1919-1988) and Dorothy Madeline Safewright Doss (1926-1996). Jim had two younger sisters Minnie Lorraine Doss and Dorothy Grace Doss (1953-1992). His father, Luther Sr. proudly served in the US Army during WWII. From 1941 through 1944 Luther Sr. placed his country before his family and fought in a war for the freedom of strangers far away from his home. Both Jim and his father were raised in Christian families who stressed good character and hard work. Jim’s grandfather owned his own blacksmith shop in VA, while Jim’s family, seeking employment, migrated to the Baltimore area where Luther Sr. worked at Bethlehem Steel and Jim’s Dorothy worked at Westinghouse. Jim graduated in 1966 from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, the premier public high school for young men and women seeking a career in the technical trades and engineering.
Jim continued his education at Virginia Technical University becoming the first VA Tech “Hokie” in his family and the first to attend college. A devout Christian throughout his short life, Jim pledged Phi Alpha Chi Fraternity and created bonds with young men some of whom continue, even now, to submit online posts in remembrance of their fraternity brother. It was a fraternity then as now whose members shared his strong moral compass and Christian beliefs.
Jim met his sweetheart Barbara Anne Doss (Rookstool) at VT and were blessed with a son, David James Doss in the Spring of 1968.
His country could not wait, however, it needed young heroes to, once again, fight for the freedom of strangers far from his home. Jim was called to duty in 1969.
Upon completion of Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training, Jim volunteered for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) duty with K. Company, 75th Ranger Rgmt assigned to the 4th Infantry Division in the mountainous and violent Central Highlands of Vietnam. Jim attended the 4th Div. Pre-Recondo school, then traveled to Nha Trang for the MACV Recondo school. He graduated late in 1969 well-honed and confident. He returned to duty as a Ranger Team ATL (Asst. Team Leader) before quickly earning the responsibility of leading his own team. In November of 1969, Jim was made Team Leader of 4-man LRRP/Ranger team R-15. It was a decision that would forever alter many lives over many years.
Team Leader Spec 4 Luther “Jimmy” Doss, Asst. TL PFC LaRoy Roth, PFC Mike Lyne, and Spec 4 Will Willard formed a team, R-15, that seemed to capture lightning in a bottle. They were so well suited in both mission and mind. Their very first mission together was to set an Ambush on Nov 25, 1969 20 KM SE of Pleiku. They surreptitiously monitored the foot traffic on trails outside a suspected VC controlled village. They passed up several opportunities because TL Doss reasoned if they continued to surveil, they could wait for a larger force to engage. There was no fear, only calculation. They remained in position, silently waiting. The following day at 19:00 a reinforced squad of armed Viet Cong walked into the well-organized trap. In the ensuing action, the enemy was decimated and much equipment and intelligence captured. The actual number of enemy KIA was not reported but the Division S-2 official After-Action Report noted all were eliminated. While gunships protected their withdrawal, the team was already planning a well-oiled celebration at basecamp. The serious, professional manner of Jim combined with the mischievous ways of his team members translated well to making the team relax with a style their own while on “stand-down”. A friend and leader of a different team, Charlie Weidner, recalled one such instance: “One night we came under indirect fire attack at our base camp. We were directed to get out of our bunks and report to the main sand-bagged bunker for safety. After some time waiting and being bored, one of Doss’ team members stood up and went to the center of the bunker and lifted up one leg. Of course, the other two did the same. All three were determined to be the last soldier to remain standing on one leg. At least it was entertaining for the rest of us.” They knew they were special and while many teams found men rotating in and out, the 4 young warriors of R-15 remained unchanged as a Ranger Team.
So it was, the four warriors of R-15 were inserted January 6, 1970 into an extremely steep area of the Chu Pah mountains, 20 KM SW of Kontum. The site overlooked the Sesan River with 40’ high triple canopy obstructing their position from air, but void of any meaningful cover on the ground. Their mission was to gather intelligence on enemy troop concentration and movement. They were further directed to engage if a “favorable” outcome could be anticipated. They discovered an abandoned enemy bunker complex that first day then set up for their night location, anticipating a harrowing few days of trying to remain hidden, in plain sight. When morning came, they were unaware their location had been discovered and were set upon in their night location. In the initial volley, Mike Lyne, LaRoy Roth and Will Willard were all mortally struck, only Jimmy Doss was able to return fire. He was able to suppress enemy fire until reinforcements were able to exfiltrate him and the remains of his three friends and team mates. There was to be no celebration at the end of this mission, the entire Ranger Company mourned this tragic day. There is some lingering heartfelt disagreement between Rangers who were assigned there, during this time. While all agree TL Jim Doss is officially listed Killed in Action leading another team, R-22, a few months later on April 30th, many believe a greater portion of him died that day in January on that remote Chu Pah mountaintop with his friends.
Things were different for Jim after that mission in January. His grief was palpable and consuming. While Jim had every reason and opportunity to “come out of the field”, some inner drive prevented that option from ever seriously being considered. On April 27th, 1970 Two Ranger teams, R-22 led by, now Sgt, Jim Doss and R-6 Led by Sgt Robert Skyles of WV were combined under the command of 1st LT Davis and inserted onto a mountaintop 30 KM North of An Khe. For 3 days the teams explored the area and found numerous well-used trails with obvious signs of recent use. At 11:35 that morning after earlier clover leaf patrols from their location at 49P BA543872 revealed no enemy sightings, several of the Rangers began eating their lunchtime rations while positioned several meters off the trail. Without warning, an element of 10 heavily armed enemy combatants chanced upon R-22. Sgt Jim Doss was mortally wounded in the initial volley and ATL Sgt David McCord of FL was severely wounded. The remaining Rangers engaged the force and between their supressive fire, gunships and artilary support, eliminated the threat. Jim’s remains and Dave McCord were extracted via a jungle penetrator harness while the remaining Rangers sought out any remaining enemy.
Jim joined K 75th despite the extreme risk, perhaps because of it. Many people have asked why would one do that. There are as many reasons for their choice as there are men. All share the trait of courage and willingness to give their all for their brother Rangers and their country. Some Rangers are never placed in mortal danger, while others seem to attract it. The circumstances of their death cannot diminish the courage and heroism shown by these Rangers when they chose to become Rangers. Some Rangers are destined to die surrounded by expended brass and the bodies of their enemy, others will die many years after their service, unharmed and surrounded by their loved ones. All will be remembered as having been among the best this nation can send to war. All are heros. They never needed to show their courage with results, their decision to risk everything for the promise of nothing made that un-necessary. Each Ranger carries with them a bit of the honor earned by each other Ranger. Fifty years have passed while we hardly noticed. Our lives have now been mostly lived, yet we’ve continued to carry their memories and maintained their fellowship in our hearts for all this time without once forgetting their sacrifice. They, as well as all the brothers we lost, continue to inspire us today as certain as they did when they were causing havoc to our enemy in the violent Central Highlands.
Ranger Luther James Doss died at the age of 22 surrounded by his friends and team mates. Two year old David would never get to feel the comforting arms of his father again, but he could not have been accompanied any closer on his life’s journey than if he and his Dad were holding hands. Jim’s moral compass was passed to his son David, who passed it to his children Summer and James. No doubt it will be forwarded to their children and generations to come. There are some things the Central Highlands of Vietnam could not conquer. He was laid to rest, with military honors, in Meadowridge Memorial Park, Elkridge, MD. In 2017 his name was engraved on the “Pylons” at Virginia Tech, an honor reserved for those Virginia Tech students Killed in Action while defending their country. In addition to postumous promotion to SSG, two Bronze Stars for Valor and numerous other awards and decorations, he was awarded, a Purple Heart, his hard earned Recondo Patch, and the coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Jim’s name is inscribed and honored on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 11W, Row 72 in Washington, DC by an eternally grateful nation. While his image has faded from our memories, his smile can still be found in the faces of his loving wife “Bobby” , Grand Daughter Summer Doss and the rest of his family.
Notes From Charlie Weidner posted January 21, 2021:
A Story about James Doss in Vietnam
I don’t remember when I first met Jim Doss. We were both in the same LRRP Class in the 4th Infantry Division’s Base Camp near Pleiku, South Vietnam. It was in September of 1969 and the mornings were cool there in the Highlands. That was a good thing because our pre-dawn workouts and long runs with a full pack and rifle were physically very strenuous.
Days were filled with physical challenges which built confidence and weeded out the weak or those who lacked determination. Classes provided training in map reading, LRRP tactics, indirect fire support, radio communications, marksmanship, weapons, explosives etc. Those who could not learn well or devote time to study were flunked out. Others were removed from training for discipline problems, not showing leadership abilities, failing to work well in a team setting or psychological quirks that may compromise the mission of a four man LRRP Team on which every member must make their full contribution.
From our class, four graduates were selected for additional training at the MACV Recondo School in Na Trang. Doss and I were among those four. Our LRRP training laid a good groundwork for the Recondo School which was even more physically taxing and academically intense. I read that the MACV Recondo School was the only school in the U.S. Army that included an actual combat mission. I guess that no one told them that our 4th Division LRRP Class included a combat mission as well. But our LRRP Training prepared us for the challenges of Recondo School and three of the four of us graduated and received the Recondo Badge which we could then proudly wear on our right shirt pocket. Doss and I were among the three graduates.
Jim Doss was a big man. Tall and strong, intelligent, with a quiet nature, he was a natural leader. Soldiers wanted to be on his team and serve with him. And after a few missions he quickly moved from Assistant Team Leader to Team leader. He had a loyal group of new rangers with him. The three team members were inseparable. Whenever I would see one, the other two would be nearby. Clowning and joking when in basecamp was the norm for them. Doss hung out with the group but avoided them whenever hi-jinx was involved (which was nearly all the time). One night we came under indirect fire attack at our base camp. We were directed to get out of our bunks and report to the main communications bunker for safety. After some time waiting and being bored, one of Doss’ team members stood up and went to the center of the bunker and lifted one leg up. Of course, the other two did the same. All three were determined to be the last soldier to remain standing on one leg. At least it was entertaining for the rest of us.
I knew that Doss was married and had a son. He told me how much he missed them. Although I was 22 years old, I was not mature enough to understand just how significant that was. It was not until eight years later when I became a father myself that I could appreciate the sacrifice that he and the other married guys and fathers were making. I am sad that I didn’t know enough about life to thank these brave men who, despite their great responsibilities chose to volunteer for duty as Rangers with Company K of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Because patrolling as a LRRP Team member was such dangerous duty, all the men of K/75 were volunteers. One day Doss’s Team suffered an unbearable loss. Three of the four members lost their lives. Doss was the only survivor. I was saddened by the loss of those three brave soldiers – my comrades-in-arms. But I was saddened and worried about this loss upon my good friend, (Luther) James Doss. He continued to patrol and I worried that he was determined not to leave Vietnam alive.
The General Mission of the Infantry is to close with and defeat the enemy. Anyone who participates in close and deadly combat as an infantryman will experience the extraordinary violence of war. They will be forever changed. As I continued to patrol for K/75, I had my opportunity to survive as the soldier at my side did not. Time and again I felt how “lucky” I was that the bullets missed my body. I did not sense that Doss felt lucky.
Years later during a conversation with a counselor, he drew out of me an overwhelming feeling of guilt I bore about my experiences in Vietnam. I did not feel guilty about the noble actions I took as a soldier. But walled off in a darkened corner of my sub-conscious mind, I suddenly realized the enormous feeling of guilt I was suffering with because I lived when others did not. Some years after that, I heard the phrase “Survivors’ Guilt.” These two words put such an appropriate title to the feelings I carried with me from Vietnam.
Whether Jim Doss was simply a dedicated Ranger with a desire to participate in achieving the goals of the Armed Forces of the United States or a sensitive soldier suffering the pain of survivors’ guilt I will never know. But Sargent Doss left Vietnam as a distinguished hero and if there is a Ranger heaven, he is back leading his team, caring for their safety in the field and being amused by their antics during downtime in base camp.