LaRoy Roth, K/75 Ranger, KIA Jan 7, 1970


March 21, 1949 – January 7, 1970

LaRoy Roth of Wall Lake, Iowa  – 1969 – Pleiku, Vietnam

LaRoy was born into a farming family in Wall Lake, Iowa as was his father before him.  LaRoy’s father, Alvin John Roth (1926-2013) worked hard to support his family. He was employed as a farmhand, worked at Farmland in Denison, was a heavy equipment operator, and did landscaping for others.  His mother, Betty Ann Wunschel Roth (1927) and Alvin were joined in marriage on February 17, 1948 in Wall Lake, fresh after coming home from the war.  Alvin served in the US Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise during the “War to end all Wars”.  Can anyone wonder why a young man with such an impeccable pedigree would not distinguish himself in the jungles of Vietnam?  LaRoy had two sisters, Lynette Roth (1956) and Barbara S Roth (1956) as well as two younger brothers Gary Edward Roth (1951-2014) and Kevin Roth (1950).  This Mid-West farming family of 5 children could not have represented the values of America better.

LaRoy grew up strong, courageous and with a moral compass pointed “True North”.  They were characteristics not found in many youths of the day.   He worked throughout his school years helping wherever he could.  His family had no excess of money nor shortage of love and good direction.   LaRoy graduated from Wall Lake Community High School in 1966.  He decided to follow the example set by his father years before.  He enlisted in the US Army to serve his nation during their time at war.  After completing his basic training and AIT as a “Lt Weapons Infantryman (11B2P) he went to Ft. Benning and graduated Paratrooper School.  In the initial stages of the United States presence in Vietnam, the clear lack of real-time intelligence nearly allowed the NVA to overrun our forces in the Ia Drang, a battle related in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers Once….and Young”.  Shortly after that hard-won battle, the 1/7th Cav was replaced by the 4th Infantry Division with the mission to “Tame the Ia Drang”.  One of the first decisions was to determine how best to know the enemy.  The solution was to insert 4-man teams of Rangers, then called LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol), to surreptitiously live in the jungle amongst the enemy.  They would be inserted into the jungle for extended missions and patrol an area of suspected enemy concentration to uncover weaknesses and eliminate when possible.  Later, in 1969, an Army-wide re-designation of all LRRPs transitioned those in the 4th Division to K Co., 75th Infantry Regiment (Ranger).  His decision to volunteer was courageous and dangerous.

In September of 1969 LaRoy found himself in the big, bad, Central Highlands of Vietnam assigned to K Co, 75th Rangers and quickly earned the respect of veteran Rangers.  LaRoy was “brought along” slowly, serving on several teams to be assigned various missions, gradually increasing in responsibility as his experience grew.  His reputation as a fierce and unflappable warrior continued to increase until he was selected by Jimmy Doss to be his Assistant Team Leader (ATL) on R-15.  Team Romeo 15 consisted of Team Leader Spec 4 Luther “Jimmy” Doss, Asst. TL PFC LaRoy Roth, and team members Spec 4 Will Willard and PFC Mike Lyne.  The four young men were remarkably 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.  They remained in position.  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 unpredictable thinking of these teammates translated well to making them susceptible to misadventure while on “stand-down”.  The serious, professional manner of Jim combined with the mischievous ways of his team members worked well to making the team relax with a style their own while not in the field.  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.   They had captured the proverbial “lightning in the bottle”.

L-R: Will Willard, Charlotte, NC; LaRoy Roth, Wall Lake, IA; Jim Doss, Glen Burnie, MD; Mike Lyne, Fayetteville, NC

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 the view of 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 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 compromised 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, alone, 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 at the time.  While all agree TL Jimmy Doss was Killed in Action leading team R-22 a few months later on April 30th, many continue to believe the greater part of him died that January day in the Chu Pahs with his friends.  For this reason, we choose to honor all four of Romeo–15 on the 50th anniversary of their loss, January 7, 1970.   

LaRoy, as all of his fellow Rangers 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 enhance or 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 LaRoy Fredrich Roth died at the age of 20 surrounded by his friends and team mates.  He was laid to rest, with military honors, in Wall Lake Cemetery, Wall Lake, Iowa.  In addition to postumous promotion to Spec 4 and several other awards and decorations, he was awarded a Bronze Star for Valor, The Purple Heart, Jump Wings and the coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge.  LaRoy’s name is inscribed and honored on the Vietnam Memorial Wall at Panel 14W, Row 9 in Washington, DC by an eternally grateful nation.