Shelton, Ralph Whitfield, MAJ

 Photo In Uniform   Service Details
3 kb
View Time Line
Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
1542-Infantry Unit Commander
Last MOS Group
Infantry (Officer)
Primary Unit
1967-1968, 1542, 8th Special Forces Group
Service Years
1948 - 1968
Foreign Language(s)


Special Forces


Three Service Stripes

Five Overseas Service Bars

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

45 kb

Home State
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by MAJ Mark E Cooper to remember Shelton, Ralph Whitfield (Pappy), MAJ.

If you knew or served with this Soldier and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
Contact Info
Home Town
Last Address
Sweetwater, TN

Date of Passing
Jun 29, 2010
Location of Interment
Cedar Grove Cemetery - Athens, Tennessee
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

24th Infantry Division Special Forces Group Infantry Shoulder Cord US Army Retired (Pre-2007)

 Unofficial Badges 

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity

Ralph W. "Pappy" Shelton

Major U.S. Army, Retired
SHELTON, RALPH W. "PAPPY", MAJOR U.S. ARMY RETIRED - 80, of Sweetwater, died Tuesday, June 29, 2010, at Sweetwater Hospital, Sweetwater, TN. A native of Corinth, Mississippi, he was a son of the late William M., Jr and Elma Hilburn Shelton and was also preceded in death by 2 sisters, Quiba Moore and Gladys Price, and 1 brother, Bill Shelton, Jr. Major Shelton, a member of the Army Special Forces, is perhaps best remembered as the man who trained the Bolivian Troops who captured the revolutionary Che Guevara. Shelton joined the U.S. Army in 1948 and served as a Sergeant in the Korean War, earning the Silver Star for valor. Shelton entered the U.S. Army officer's training school, finishing first in his class in 1958. In 1961, after Ranger and Airborne training, he joined the Special Forces. His Mobile Training Team served much of its time behind enemy lines to train natives of other countries to fight insurgencies around the world. His team fought Laotian insurgents in Southeast Asia before he was assigned in 1967 to train Bolivian troops to capture Guevara. After leaving the Army, he earned a bachelor's and a master's degree from the University of Memphis. He taught 12 years of JROTC in the Memphis City Schools and served five years as director of Operations Wilderness, a summer experience modeled after the Outward Bound Program. He also served 14 years as training director with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Memphis. He was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Sweetwater, where he had served on the Administrative Board. He was a member of the Sweetwater Kiwanis Club, He was a member of Memphis Lodge #722 F&AM, he was a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, and was a member of the Shrine of Memphis. He served as a Sweetwater City Commissioner, was also involved in Sweetwater Tourism, and was awarded Monroe County's Tourism Person of the Year. He is survived by his wife; Susan Vestal Shelton, of Sweetwater and formerly of Athens; four daughters: Janeene Larkin of Memphis, Robin Poole and her husband Randy of Gallantin, TN, Piper Browning, and Brandi Maddox both of Nashville; one son, Ralph W. Shelton, Jr. and his wife Phyllis of Dayton, TN; and one stepson, Robert Forrest Torian of Memphis; and eight grandchildren. A funeral service will be conducted, 3:00 P.M., Friday, July 2, 2010, in the chapel of Smith Funeral Home with the Rev. Julian Walton and Rev. Carl Oakes officiating. Interment will follow in Cedar Grove Cemetery with full Military Honors at the graveside. The family will receive friends at the funeral home from 1:00-2:30 P.M., Friday prior to the service. If you are unable to attend this service or visitation, you may sign the guest register Smith Funeral & Cremation Service of Athens is serving the family of Ralph W. "Pappy"Shelton.
Published in Knoxville News Sentinel on July 1, 2010

Other Comments:
Major Ralph Shelton obituary
US officer and Green Beret who trained the Bolivian troops that captured Che Guevara,
Major Ralph "Pappy" Shelton, who has died aged 80, was the American officer who trained the Bolivian troops that captured Che Guevara in 1967. Together with 16 Spanish-speaking US officers, Shelton set up a training camp in eastern Bolivia in April 1967 to teach a battalion of 400 Bolivian conscripts the techniques of counter-guerrilla warfare. When their training ended in mid-September, they were transferred to the guerrilla zone, and two weeks later, on 8 October, surrounded Guevara's guerrilla band. Guevara himself was wounded and captured, and executed on 9 October. Shelton slipped out of the country on the following day and returned to his headquarters in the Panama Canal Zone.
"We had a job to do and we did it," Shelton said last year. "The people of Bolivia wanted Guevara gone and asked for help, and we were glad to give it. That man is famous now, but he killed lots of innocent people and we were glad to help put him out of business."
Shelton was the son of a poor farmer who moved from Mississippi to Tennessee. He contributed to the family income by working as a logger and sawmill operator before leaving for Detroit aged 17 to find work in an automobile plant. He joined the army in 1948 and was sent initially to Japan before serving as a sergeant in the Korean war. He was wounded and returned to his father's farm but, unimpressed by the farming life, returned to the army. He served in Germany and then went to an officers' training school, graduating first in his class as a second lieutenant. As the oldest trainee, he acquired the nickname "Pappy".
In 1962, aged 32, he joined the elite "special forces", or Green Berets, established by the Kennedy government in 1961 to combat guerrilla insurgencies in different parts of the world. Shelton was sent out to Laos where the Green Berets operated behind enemy lines in the fight against the Pathet Lao guerrillas. After Spanish-language training in the Panama Canal Zone, Shelton was dispatched to the Dominican Republic in the wake of the US invasion in 1965 as part of the mobile training teams (MTTs) that the US military was setting up to assist local armies. In March 1967, when news of a guerrilla uprising in Bolivia first surfaced, Shelton was the obvious candidate to lead the MTT for deployment there.
Shelton flew to Bolivia in April and, in collaboration with Colonel Joaquín Zenteno Anaya, the Bolivian commander in the guerrilla zone, searched for a training base. They found an abandoned sugar mill outside the small settlement of La Esperanza, some 40 miles north of Santa Cruz, and training began. Shelton was in his element: he commandeered the bulldozers being used by an American aid mission, he embarked on civic projects to endear his troops to the locals, and he took little notice of the US ambassador in La Paz or his military superior, Colonel JP Rice, based in Cochabamba. Shelton reported directly to US southern command in Panama, with whom he was in daily radio contact. He was also kept well informed of the guerrilla fighting 100 miles to the south, through two Cuban exiles operating as CIA agents in the field.
When I interviewed Shelton at La Esperanza in October 1967, he was preparing for a training session with a second battalion of conscripts, but he seemed confident that the guerrilla war was ending. The next day, a sergeant from the US camp, sitting at his favourite cafe in the main square, jumped up to tell me that Guevara had been captured. When I bumped into Shelton at the airport two days later, he gave a smile but said nothing, except: "Mission accomplished."
Shelton retired from the army after his Bolivian excursion and took a master's degree at the University of Memphis. An active public servant, a mason and a board member of his Methodist church, he also served as a commissioner in the mayor's office in Sweetwater, Tennessee. He is survived by his wife, Susan, and four daughters.
Ralph "Pappy" Shelton, US counter-insurgency officer, born 1930, died 29 June 2010

Prior to OCS Pappy had 10 years enlisted service, making him one of the “old” men of the group. Pappy came to OCS as an MSG, having served in Germany (8ID), several stateside posts, Japan (1CAV) and Korea. Pap was in G Co 19th Inf Regt 24th ID during the Korean War’s early fighting. Pap’s military schools include Inf Car Crs, Special Forces Off Crs, Unconventional Warfare, Jumpmaster, and Language School (Spanish). Awards include SS, JSCM, two ACMs w/V and CIB w/Star. Assignments include Plt Ldr, Co XO and CO and SF Det Cmdr and Operations Officer. Pappy say the most significant event of his career was heading the Mobile Training Team—MTT Shelton—from Panama to Bolivia in 1967. He trained the Ranger Bn that fought Che Cuevara’s guerrilla band, defeated the band and captured Che on 8 October 1967. Another significant assignment was with the White Star MTT in Laos, January-July 1962, another secret action at the time. Pappy retired from the Army in August 1968. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Memphis State in 1977 and his master’s degree there in 1980. His major employment since retiring from the military in 1968 has been as JROTC instructor for Memphis city schools and as training officer for the U.S. Office of Personnel Mgmt. Pap and his first wife, Margaret, had one son and four daughters. He and Susan, a lawyer, were married in August 1974. He retired the second time 2 May 1994.

 Photo Album   (More...

 Ribbon Bar

Combat Infantryman 2nd Award
Master Parachutist
Vietnam - Jump Wings

 Enlisted/Officer Basic Training
  1958, Infantry Officer Candidate School (Fort Benning, GA), A
 Unit Assignments/ Advancement Schools
1st Cavalry Division U.S. Army8th Infantry DivisionSpecial Forces Qualification Course (SFQC)
7th Special Forces Group (Airborne)MAAG Laos5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)8th Special Forces Group
  1949-1951, 1745, HHC, 1st Cavalry Division
  1951-1952, 1745, HHC, 25th Tank Battalion
  1954-1957, 1745, 8th Infantry Division
  1961-1961, 6, Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC)
  1961-1963, 1542, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
  1962-1962, 1542, MAAG Laos
  1965-1966, 1542, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
  1967-1968, 1542, 8th Special Forces Group
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1962-1962 Operation White Star
  1965-1966 Operation Power Pack (Dominican Republic)
 Colleges Attended 
University of MemphisUniversity of Memphis
  1971-1975, University of Memphis
  1979-1980, University of Memphis
Copyright Inc 2003-2011