FORT BRAGG, NC – Hundreds of Green Berets volunteered for the mission. But after months of preparation on November 20, 1970, only 56 of them used the cover of darkness to infiltrate the North Vietnamese prison camp of Son Tay in an attempt to rescue 70 American prisoners of war more than 100 miles behind enemy lines. The raid was a tactical success, neutralizing hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers with only two minor injuries received by American forces.
One of these men, the late, retired Sgt. Maj. Kenneth E. McMullin was memorialized by hundreds of fellow Green Berets, friends and family members in a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Chapel on Fort Bragg, Jan. 31 to honor not only his role as one of the elite Son Tay Raiders, but for his 32 years of military service.
“I am truly humbled to have served with him,” said Brig. Gen. Edward Reeder, U.S. Army Special Forces Command commanding general. “He embodied the spirit of Special Forces across decades of service.”
In addition to Son Tay, McMullin served with 8th Special Forces Group in Panama, 5th SFG in Vietnam, where he trained and led foreign personnel in airborne infantry combat operations including the combat parachute jump into BuPrang in South Vietnam and 46th Special Forces Company in the Kingdom of Thailand. In 1974 he volunteered to serve as the operations sergeant major with 82nd Airborne Division on Fort Bragg. McMullin also became a member of the Saudi Arabia foreign internal defense mobile training team, spent four years with Operation Blue Light, the Army’s first counter-terrorism unit, and became the operations and training sergeant major at the Joint Special Operations Command. He then participated in the planning and execution of Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, before returning to Panama for five years. He returned to the United States in early 1990 as a company sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 7th SFG and then command sergeant major of the activating 3rd Battalion, 3rd SFG where he served as the rear command sergeant major during Operation Desert Storm. McMullin served as acting command sergeant major for 3rd Battalion, 3rd SFG until his retirement in late 1992.
“You can’t ask for a better soldier,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Joe Lupyak, a life-long friend of McMullin’s and fellow Raider. “He was a soldier’s soldier. He was respected and admired. There are countless non-commissioned officers and officers that came up on (McMullin’s) knee.”
One of these officers is Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, incoming commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Speaking during the ceremony, Cleveland recalled his time first as a detachment commander and later as a company commander with McMullin as his company sergeant major.
“With respect to the other sergeants major in the room, I realize how honored I was to have him as my first sergeant major. He was the smartest man I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving with.”
“As everyone knows, my dad loved to read and never stopped learning his craft,” said his son, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Steven McMullin, assistant operations officer for 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group. “He filled his shelves with military history. But I know his prized books were about his friends, many of you here today… All of his books signed, all marked with favorite pages and passages. The names once redacted are penciled back in, to celebrate his friend’s achievements.”
As the ceremony came to an close, an endless line of those friends and comrades filed by the picture of McMullin at the front of the chapel, each Soldier stopping one last time to salute and say their goodbyes.
“They don’t make them like Kenny anymore,” said Lupyak. “He was a very likable individual, didn’t speak badly about anyone. He was a quiet presence. He had a good sense of humor and did his business. And he was respected because of his abilities.”
McMullin passed away on Christmas Day 2011 and was cremated in a ceremony held by his family in Hermosa Beach, Calif. His family plans on spreading his ashes in the Pacific Ocean this summer.
His awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with “V” device and two oak leaf clusters, Purple Heart, Master Parachutist Badge, SCUBA Badge and HALO Jumpmaster Badge.
“We who had the privilege of serving with him know that he had plenty of medals pinned onto his jacket, but there were plenty more pinned to his soul on Christmas Day,” said Cleveland.