Hinesville native Lt. Col. Rembert Gary Rollison was inducted, along with 16 others, into the Ranger Hall of Fame on Tuesday during a ceremony on Fort Benning.
He was recognized for his valor in combat during the Vietnam War.
Rollison died Oct. 4, 2000, from pancreatic cancer but his widow, Martha Rollison, was there to accept the medal on his behalf. His only surviving brother, Mark Rollison, and first cousin Jimmy Rollison, also attended.
The man known as “Gabe” was born July 29, 1943, in Jesup to Johnnie Mae and Rembert Lee Rollison. He had two younger brothers, Barry and Mark, with whom he grew up in Hinesville. The nearby woods called to Gabe from a young age.
“It was almost like Gabe was born a Ranger,” Martha Rollison said. “He grew up in the swamp, he hunted when the rest of his family played golf. He just felt more at home in the woods, or with a gun in his hand, it was like what he was born to do.”
After graduating from Bradwell Institute, he majored in English at what was then North Georgia College in Dahlonega. Gabe joined the Army ROTC program, even though his grandfather, who served in World War I, and father, who served in World War II, both were Marines.
Even in college, he had a very commanding presence and his fellow ROTC cadets flocked to him. Gabe Rollison would be surrounded by them, even on dates, his wife, Martha, said.
Rollison graduated in March 1966 and commissioned as a second lieutenant. After completing initial infantry and airborne training, he married his college sweetheart, Martha White, in Gainesville, Georgia. Just two days after the wedding, he went to Ranger school, according to his wife.
“He was very family oriented and very focused on caring for his family, but he was a no nonsense man’s man,” Jimmy Rollison said. “And he was a leader of men.”
Gabe and Martha Rollison had two boys, Kevin, who died in 2010, and Kirby, as well as a daughter who died in infancy, during their 34-year marriage.
Rollison deployed to Vietnam in 1967 and was assigned to the 4th Infantry division that then became the 25th Infantry Division, first as a rifle platoon leader and later as a mortar platoon leader. He was assigned to Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, and the unit operated in several areas, including the Michelin Rubber Plantation and Tay Ninh, according to the biography released by Fort Benning.
On March 21, 1967, “during Operation Junction City in Tay Ninh, Ranger Rollison bravely maneuvered his troops under intense hostile fire to destroy enemy positions, accounting for many enemy soldiers killed,” his biography reads.
He then “called in indirect fire, air strikes, and supervised the evacuation of the wounded,” according to the biography. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Silver Star.
In 1968, Rollison left the Army to pursue a civilian career, but he soon realized that being an insurance salesman was not for him, according to the book “Ripcord: Screaming Eagles Under Siege, Vietnam 1970,” by Keith Nolan. The book tells the Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord, which Rollison fought during his second tour. He returned to the Army in 1969 as a captain.
Rollison was sent to 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in 1970 and searched for an opportunity to command a rifle company.
According to the “Ripcord” book, Lt. Col. Andre Lucas, the commander of 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, first offered him a staff position, but Rollison wouldn’t take it.
“I came back here to do what I do best, and that’s leading men in combat. I want a company. If you don’t have one for me, I’ll find a battalion that does,” Rollison said, according to the book.
Lucas gave him command of Delta Company, and Rollison would become close to his new battalion commander.
Rollison turned his poorly performing company into an effective fighting force, according to his biography.
“(Rollison) led by example and made sure every soldier understood what was expected. He prepared them to survive in combat and take the fight to the enemy,” the biography reads.
“God, family, country, basically,” was what Jimmy Rollison said he learned from his cousin Gabe. “To lead by example, he led by example.
In the battles, he was the tip of the spear. I mean, he would lead his men into battle, and he wouldn’t tell anybody to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself in a crisis situation.”
Gabe Rollison also made sure that his men were cared for, no matter the need.
“And to know how many times he would go to a superior, even of him, and demand more socks, clean socks, all that stuff for his men.
Nothing was too small or too big for him,” his mother, Johnnie Rollison, said.
The Battle of Fire Support Base Ripcord in A-Shau Valley, Vietnam, was probably the most intense battle Rollison fought. From March 12 to July 23, 1970, 248 American soldiers were killed, three still are missing in action, three were awarded the Medal of Honor and five were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, according to the Fire Support Base Ripcord Association’s website.
The association also says that the Siege of Fire Base Ripcord was during the heaviest part of the battle, from July 1-23, 1970, when 75 Americans were killed.
According to his biography and “Ripcord,” in this last major battle of Vietnam, Rollison was viewed as the most effective combat leader there.
“He led his men from the front, saved countless lives, rescued his brother units when they became pinned down by intense enemy fire, organized evacuation of casualties, and directed artillery and air strikes against North Vietnamese forces attempting to surround the Fire Base,” his biography says.
For his actions and bravery, he was awarded two Silver Star Medals, the Soldier’s Medal and, later, the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for rescuing a soldier under fire and seeing to his safe evacuation, his biography states.
After he returned home, Rollison had a distinguished career in the Army as he worked at several levels of leadership. He retired from the Army in 1987 in Alaska, where he stayed to work and live out the rest of his life. But the war had changed him.
“When he came home that second time, I think that was when, mentally and emotionally, we kind of lost each other,” said Mark Rollison, who was close to his brother growing up. “You can’t go through that stuff and just come home and be the same. He wanted to get as far away from the war as possible.”
Gabe Rollison was able to find solace during his time in Alaska, his wife said. On Adak Island, they lived in a remote part of Alaska and he wrote many poems there and did a lot of soul searching, Martha Rollison said.
“I think that was part of the healing process,” she said.
At the Ranger Hall of Fame ceremony Tuesday, inductees or family representatives were brought on-stage individually, and citations were read about their military history and accomplishments.
Afterward, the inductees were able to meet attendees, and the family met some of the men who served with Gabe Rollison.
“This is just quite an honor,” his cousin Jimmy Rollison said about the Ranger Hall of Fame recognition. “I mean, basically, it’s not often in life someone gets to leave a legacy behind them from the decisions and choices that they make. And the bravery that he had exemplified in his military career has enabled his family to, after he’s been gone so many years, still be honored and so proud of his accomplishments.”
“I can’t tell you without getting emotional, how incredible we felt,” Mark Rollison said.
“The medals weren’t really that important to him,” Martha Rollison said. “But as I said at the ceremony the other day, he would have been truly honored for this recognition because it was given by his fellow Rangers — to think that they deemed him worthy of that.”