Broughton took part in covert operations as an Army Ranger
ELKINS — An area resident and former Elkins mayor was involved in two covert operations during his time in the United States Army.
Virgil Broughton, 79, enlisted into the U.S. Army in December 1958 before becoming a corporal in the Army Rangers.
“I was stateside here for a year. I went in, in December of 1958, and I got rotated overseas three days prior to Christmas, Dec. 22, ’59, I got sent out,” Broughton said. “I got sent to Europe and after I was there for a while (his wife, Dee Broughton) joined me over there and spent about a year and a half.”
While stateside, Broughton spent 16 weeks — eight weeks each — in basic training and advanced infantry training at Fort Jackson, Florida, as well as going to jump school in Fort Benning, Georgia, and Army Ranger School in Dahlonega, Georgia.
Broughton described United States Army Ranger Camp as similar to the television show “MASH.”
“That ranger camp was just like ‘MASH,’ except there wasn’t any medical facility. It was an infantry facility training Army Rangers on mountain survival,” Broughton said. “Jumping out of choppers and etc. That was en experience in itself. Like I said, I went in in ’58 and I was up there at that ranger camp until ’59, counting all the other training. They had a reason for sending me overseas and she came over while I was still in training but they sent her back home. That’s when my military days really got started.”
Dee Broughton explained that after her husband was sent abroad, she and their son, Van, stayed with him in Nuremberg, Germany, until she went back to the United States when the Berlin Crisis took place in 1961.
After his wife was sent home, Broughton began training for the covert operations he was involved in. Broughton explained that, due to an agreement with then-President John F. Kennedy and the United States government, he could not go into detail regarding the operations.
“I was trained, like I said, I was with the ranger company and they do a lot of things that nobody is allowed to know about,” he said. “I was involved in two covert operations in two different countries which I won’t go into, I can’t go into. I was with a bunch of rangers where we went in, did something and got out.”
Broughton said due to the covert operations leading into the Vietnam War, his enlistment was extended. He added some of the things he saw were a “sad sight.”
“The war started in around that time and they had things they had to do. I got extended on my enlistment — I stayed longer than I signed up for,” Broughton said. “I ended up there and it was a sad sight.”
Broughton said he feels honored to have been a member of the United States Army Rangers.
“Being an Army Ranger is an honor in itself. There is a lot of training and I had the privilege to be a member,” he said. “When I was rotating back to stateside I was put on board a carrier named after William O’Darby. He was a general and was the one who helped start the Army Rangers. I got to come back on the O’Darby Ranger ship.”
Broughton added he would have remained in the military longer had he been given the opportunity to do so.
“I would have stayed in if it hadn’t gotten so bad over yonder, I think. You knew what you could do and by the time (Dee) had the two boys, Jeff and Van, and I came back and joined the (United States Army National) Guards in case I was needed to go,” he said.
Broughton served as a member of the United States Army National Guard for three years.
He said his strongest memory from his time in the service is learning from the other soldiers he worked with.
“The biggest thing is the guys that I trained with, the guys that I went on my covert operations with, they were all men. I was the youngest one in the bunch, I was 22 or 23 years old and my captain was 35. The rest of the guys were older than he,” Broughton said. “They are all gone now, the guys I served with.”
Broughton’s time in the service gave him an added appreciation for what the country and American flag stand for.
“It makes you appreciate your country, your family, the American flag and what the other veterans have went through,” he said. “I know, from being with those rangers, God, they were good men.”
He shared a touching moment he experienced while a member of the rangers.
“I was an enlisted man. We were getting ready to come out of a chopper in a bad situation. I break down when I tell it, but my captain — officers don’t talk to enlisted men very much, they are trained not to — he said, ‘Virg,’ he said, ‘I know you’ve got my back and believe me, buddy, I’ve got yours,'” Broughton said. “It’s remarkable the people you meet. Some of them can be butts, that’s true, but deep down, I think you meet more good guys than you do bad guys.”
He said his memories of the service are very positive.
“After 58 or 59 years, it is good memories,” he said. “We helped a lot of good people.”
Broughton added that while he was not injured in his entire term of service in the military, he was shot twice while turkey hunting locally, one day before the Kennedy assassination.
“I came back and went turkey hunting — I had missed turkey hunting — I went turkey hunting up on Cheat Mountain. I never got a scratch on me over there in Vietnam but I went turkey hunting and some guy walked up behind me and shot me in the back with a shotgun,” he said. “I never did know who did it. He thought I was a turkey, I was squatted down. The day after, Kennedy was assassinated.”
He noted that while both he and Kennedy made the front page of The Inter-Mountain, Kennedy’s headline was much, much larger.
While in the military, Broughton also played football, baseball and basketball for the semi-pro Manheim Barons.
After returning from military service, Broughton was employed with the city of Elkins for two years before going to work on the railroad for four years. He served as an Elkins City Councilman for four years and was Elkins mayor for two years.
A graduate of Elkins High School, Broughton and his wife, Dee, will celebrate their 60th anniversary in July.
The couple have four children — Van, who is the current mayor of Elkins, and Jeff, Chris and Beth.
Broughton also served as a baseball umpire for 36 years, including a three-year stint umpiring professional baseball.