September 2010

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Ideals To Aspire To

Reviewed by: R.Adm. William A. Heine, USNR (ret) and Colonel Michael D. Wyly USMC (Ret.) Both men were classmates of Colonel John Ripley, Class of 1962, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.

A lone U.S. Marine hand-walked, gripping the girders underneath the bridge over the Cua Viet River in the midst of a fire fight, on Easter Sunday, 1972. South of the bridge, a beleaguered battalion of fewer than 700 South Vietnamese Marines was the last ditch defense of the town of Dong Ha. North of the bridge, a column of 200 Soviet-built tanks and 30,000 North Vietnamese soldiers moved south. The bridge was their destination and their means of rapidly reinforcing the communist forces already in the Republic of Vietnam. As advisor to the South Vietnamese battalion, Captain John W. Ripley, received the order to destroy the bridge. He did so, singlehandedly. It would take him three hours hand-walking out with the explosives and back again for more. At one point he passed out from fatigue on a girder, only to be awakened when a round from the main gun of an enemy tank slammed into the bridge and jolted him awake. ” ‘The idea that I would be able to even finish the job before the enemy got me was ludicrous,” ‘Captain Ripley is quoted. ‘When you know you’re not going to make it, a wonderful thing happens: You stop being cluttered by the feeling that you’re going to survive.’”

The captain would retire from the Corps as a full colonel in 1992. The writers of this review have known him since we were all 18-year-old plebes reporting to the U.S. Naval Academy in the Class of 1962. “Rip” as we called him died of an apparent heart attack in October 2008 and we each had conversation with him within a week of his death, knew him in the course of our own military careers, knew he was the hero who singlehandedly destroyed the bridge, but did not know how much a hero, had never heard Rip’s words quoted above, until we read Norman Fulkerson’s An American Knight. If you understand the title, you do not need to read the book. But read it anyway. It is an uplifting story.

John W. Ripley with his wife Moline, after receiving the Navy Cross during the evening Parade at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington D.C.

From Fulkerson we also learn that when asked to sign a contract for a possible movie about his actions, Rip imposed two conditions. Whoever portrayed him would not use profanity and would not be unfaithful to his wife. When it came to being an officer of Marines, Rip epitomized what this means in a way Hollywood might never understand. Simply put, Rip was a gentleman. Hollywood images of tough guys swearing and womanizing may attract throngs of ticket-buyers seeking an evening’s entertainment, but they fail to capture what service to one’s country and courage under fire really are. John captured them both, true to life.

Fulkerson’s writing style is without pretense. One editor described the book as “an easy read.” It follows the chronology of Colonel Ripley’s life in sequence. No flashbacks or fast forwards. We meet his parents and the small town Radford, Virginia, where he grew up. We meet his bride to be and learn of his courtship and marriage. But without the author having to tell us, we sense where the story is taking us, that when Rip is called upon, he will do his duty, no matter the odds.

And so it was with we who knew him. When we were all teenage midshipman Rip’s future had an inevitability about it. That he would be a Marine officer was a certainty. On this, he was thoroughly focused. Likewise, that he would stay in uniform for a full 30 years. That his specialty would be infantry. Our images of military life were formed in World War II. “Marine” meant hitting the beach in a landing craft with a drop-ramp bow and charging on foot against the enemy. That we would one day go to war to fight for our freedom seemed equally certain. Rip wanted to do that because he believed in what the country stood for. Add all this together and you knew Rip would be called upon to do his duty, to exercise immense courage under fire, and that he would rise to the occasion, never flinching. And with that ever-present broad smile on his face.

1967 Vietnam photo of then Captain John Ripley studying a map with his trademark smile.

Rip had two tours of duty in Vietnam, the first as an infantry company commander. Here we read of his forbidding his Marines to shoot a pig because “it belongs to a farmer who needs to sustain a family.” And the same humanitarian thread continues as the bridge at Dong Ha finally blows into “massive chunks of concrete and steel spiraling through the air” while Rip holds in his arms a Vietnamese child whom he rescued from the impact area just in time.

Rip’s story does not end when the bridge blows up. As a colonel he is assigned back to his Alma Mater at Annapolis. There, he sets an example to the young midshipmen in his charge, guides and mentors them, earning respect and love above and beyond anything we remember witnessing or hearing about in our own careers. His calm manner, his inner toughness, and his ready smile –all life-long traits– made it a morale boost just to be in the same room with him.

Norman Fulkerson first met Colonel Ripley in 1993 when the Colonel delivered a speech for the launching of the book Nobility and Analagous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII at The Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C. In the ensuing years he kept in touch, personally, and read articles and books recounting the Colonel’s actions at Dong Ha, Vietnam, in 1972. He met Marines who had served with Colonel Ripley. The more the author learned of “Colonel Ripley the man,” the more he found himself thinking what a model citizen and model officer the colonel was. Finally, in 2007, a year before Colonel Ripley died unexpectedly, Mr. Fulkerson began to conceptualize a book about the Colonel’s life. The material in An American Knight is drawn from a combination of conversations with Colonel Ripley; meetings and interviews with Marines and family members: several books and articles that have documented the Colonel’s courage in Vietnam, and the content of Colonel Ripley’s speeches that the author had attended over the years.

An American Knight is more than sound military history. It is the story of a life led without pretense or affectation, an example of doing one’s duty selflessly, and, in this way is a story the youth of our country are starved for. Adults should read it for inspiration of how to rear their children and our children should read it to learn that great things can be done by people who come from the simplest beginnings, that bravado is not a requirement, that honor is sacred, and that modesty and courtesy are the keys to respectability. We should hope our grandchildren will put the book down and reflect, “Maybe I could do that” and know, when they too are called upon to act in some unforeseeable situation, “there was one who went before me and rose to the occasion. I can too.”

R. Adm. William A. Heine, USNR (ret.) is an Annapolis classmate of John Ripley who served 38 years in the Navy. The bridge that John Ripley destroyed at Dong Ha was built in 1969 by a Seabee Battalion NMCB-62. Admiral Heine served as an Operations Officer of the Battalion just prior to its construction and was familiar with various aspects of the project.

Colonel Michael D. Wyly, USMC (ret.) served two tours and distinguished himself as an outstanding Marine infantry officer in Vietnam. His early life and military career is chronicled in Robert Coram's book "Boyd".

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SSG Salvatore Giunta will receive the Medal of Honor

By Michelle Tan

“Staff  Sgt. Salvatore Giunta will be the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War…

“…The Medal of Honor awarded to Giunta will be the eighth since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The seventh, also for actions in Afghanistan, was announced Thursday and will be awarded posthumously to Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller.”

To read more Click Here.

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Christopher Adlesperger was a "soft hearted kid" his grandmother said.

by Norman Fulkerson

Christopher Adlesperger, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, received the Navy Cross when he singled handedly eliminated 13 Taliban in a vicious firefight. While he will always be remembered for the outstanding actions, which earned him a Navy Cross, his grandmother, Lynda Adlesperger, described the young man behind the heroics.

He is most commonly described, by those who knew him, as a soft-spoken, religious young man who loved poetry and art. What people don’t know are the difficulties he had to endure early in life.

When only 3 years old his parents divorced, leaving Christopher with the struggles of growing up in a single parent household. Like many children of divorce, Christopher was forced to grow up quickly. He also showed a great sensitivity towards the weakness and vulnerability of those around him and never refused them a helping hand.

When bullies at school singled out the weaker kid to pester, Christopher was the one stepped in to defend the innocent.

“Chris was so soft hearted,” Mrs. Adelsperger said, “he would do anything to help someone who was less fortunate. He was always for the underdog.”

His interventions were never done in anger however since he was generally not one to lose his temper. In fact he was a very easygoing kid who was known to play practical jokes and tease people. Mrs. Adlesperger witnessed a sample of his lighthearted banter one day when their elderly neighbor lady, out of gratitude for Christopher’s help, baked him some cookies. This was her way of repaying the young man for voluntarily mowing her lawn. With a twinkle in his eye, Christopher looked at his grandfather Edwin and said, “You don’t get any.” Only after a long and playful exchange between the two, did Christopher allow his “grandpa” a sample.

 

2001 photo of Christopher left with his grandfather, the same year that Edwin Adlesperger was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Turning point in his life

After his parents divorce, he practically grew up in his grandparent’s home and became extremely attached to his Grandfather. It was clear that of all Mr. Adlesperger’s grandchildren, Christopher was without a doubt, his favorite. Seeing the struggles he faced, Mr. Adlesperger paid a lot of attention to him, helped him when he was in trouble and was always there to listen.

In 1998 Mr. Adlesperger health began to decline rapidly due to emphysema and an enlarged heart. In 2001, when Christopher was only 14, Edwin was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Christopher was devastated. He had grown so accustomed to rely on his grandfather’s guidance during difficult times. True to his nature, he remained strong for his grandmother. Mr. Adlesperger would now need round the clock care, and she needed his help.

“You could not have asked for a better kid,” she said.

 

“I am going to be the best.”

In 2004 Edwin Adlesperger died and Christopher felt completely lost and without direction.

“He didn’t fit in anywhere, except with his grandfather,” Mrs. Aldersperger said. “At 19 years of age,” she continued, “he decided to join the Marines.

“Of all the [branches] why Marines?, she asked.

“If I am going to [join the military],” he responded, “I am going to be the best. I am not going to waste my life and I am not going to be one of those people that get into trouble.”

Within a week of this decision, he was gone.

After boot camp, he came to see his grandmother one last time, in September of 2004, before deploying to Iraq. She described him as being nervous, but he faced his fear like a man.

When asked why he chose to join the Marines, Christopher, shown here in his dress blues, responded, "I am going to be the best."

“Its my duty as a Marine,” he said, “I will do whatever I have to do.”

On November 4, 2004, Mrs. Adlesperger received a letter from him. Always thinking about others, he simply wanted to let his grandmother know he was okay.

“Let me say sorry because I am writing in the dark. Everything out here is going all right. It’s pretty crazy though, let me just say that. We are getting ready to make the second biggest urban assault in Marine history here in a couple of days so we keep pretty busy. I do not have time to write a lot but I just wanted to thank you and hope that you are doing well. Take care of yourself and I hope to hear from you soon. Love Christopher.”

The Battle For Fallujah

On November 10, 2004, Pfc. Christopher Adlesperger entered the hall of heroes and is considered to be responsible for destroying the last strong point in the battle for Fallujah. It occurred when Pfc. Adlesperger’s squad was clearing houses in the Jolan district of Al Fallujah. As they burst through the gate of one house, they were hit with heavy fire from a well-prepared entrenched machine gun position from within the house. His best friend, Lance Cpl. Erick Hodges, was immediately shot and killed while others were wounded.

A violent shootout ensued with both sides squaring off a mere 20 feet from each other. As the Marines fought back, terrorist inside the building began lobbing grenades. A sniper in a nearby alleyway picked off corpsmen, radio operators and anyone else attempting to lend a helping hand.

As the world crumbled around him, Christopher Adlesperger exposed himself to machine gun fire in order to help those wounded reach the safety of an outdoor stairway leading to the roof. During the process bullets tugged at his clothing while shrapnel from a fragmentation grenade ripped through his face causing intense bleeding. All of this made an impossible situation worse. Looking death in the Pfc. Adlesperger continued to exchange fire with the machine gunner, when he saw several terrorist storm the staircase. He quickly eliminated them, before arriving to the roof where the wounded were able to receive medical treatment.

As he looked down at the carnage below he was horrified to see several terrorists unnecessarily riddle the lifeless body of Eric Hodges before putting one last shot in his head. As another terrorist ran from the house to retrieve Hodges weapon, Pfc. Adlesperger stopped him dead in his tracks with a single shot.

Meanwhile the machine gunner inside the building continued to hold Marines at bay. Adlesperger laid his M-16 down long enough to blow holes in the side of the house with his grenade launcher. Four insurgents fled the barrage only to find themselves in Christopher’s crosshairs and were quickly eliminated as well.

The rest of the days event are aptly narrated in the Navy Cross citation:

 

 

The Navy Cross

Disregarding his own wounds and physical exhaustion, Private First Class Adlesperger rejoined his platoon and demanded to take point for a final assault on the same machine gun position. Once an Assault Amphibian Vehicle created a breach in the wall adjacent to the enemy’s position, Private First Class Adlesperger was the first Marine to re-enter the courtyard where he eliminated a remaining insurgent at close range. When the fighting finally ceased, a significant number of insurgents from fortified positions had been eradicated. Through his actions, Private First Class Adlesperger destroyed the last strongpoint in the Jolan District of Al Fallujah and saved the lives of his fellow Marines.[1]

“When it was over, Adlesperger’s face was covered in blood, while his uniform had bullet holes in the sleeve and collar. In spite of his condition “he refused to be evacuated until Hodges’ body was recovered.”[2]

Although Christopher Adlesperger survived that terrible battle, he would not endure a similarly intense encounter with the enemy a month later. As our Nation was deciding on whether this brave young man would receive the Medal of Honor or Navy Cross, Christopher gave the ultimate sacrifice and was gunned down during another intense firefight.

Once again he had taken the lead position when his battalion was assigned to sweep another neighborhood in Fallujah. As they entered a non descript house, Pfc. Adlesperger was hit with multiple rounds which spun him around: one bullet slipped by the protective plates in his body army, pierced his heart and killed him instantly.[3]

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Christopher Adlesperger at work in his grandfather's backyard. He was always willing to help those in need and defend the underdog.

After his death Good Morning America did a segment on Christopher Adelsperger. In it they showed clips of the Marine laughing as he handed candy to Iraqi children, out the window of his Humvee. Mrs. Adelsperger said it portrayed her grandson in a very “care free way.”

When we contemplate the life of this extraordinary young man, we are amazed at the remarkable transformation Christopher Adlesperger underwent in just three-month-period. From care giver to his grandfather, he became a United States Marine and rapidly went on to become a national hero. Yet through it all he retained the same upbeat spirit, determination and the willingness to help those in most need. While a bullet might have stopped Christopher Adlesperger’s very big heart, it did nothing to diminish America’s affection for someone who is truly a Modern American Hero.


[1]http://militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=3651

[2] http://www.copthetruth.com/cop_the_truth/2006/10/uncommon_valor_.html

[3] Ibid

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He was impaled by a live RPG during Taliban ambush while on patrol. Army protocol says that medivac choppers are never to carry anyone with a live round in him. Even though they feared it could explode, the flight crew simply ignored the protocol and flew him to the nearest aid station. Again, protocol said that in such a case the patient is to be put in a sandbagged area away from the surgical unit, given a shot of morphine and left to wait (and die) until others are treated. Again, the medical team ignored the protocol.  Here’s a short video put together by the Military Times, which includes actual footage of the surgery where Dr. John Oh, a Korean immigrant who became a naturalized citizen and went to West Point, removed the live round with the help of volunteers and a member of the EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) team.  Moss has undergone six operations but is doing well at home in Gainesville, GA.  I think you’ll find the video absolutely remarkable.

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Mr. Fred Porfilio shouting slogans through a mega-phone, during a TFP Street Campaign.

In Memoriam: Frederick V. Porfilio

by Mr. Joseph Ferrara

20 Years Later

1939 – 1990

“Our Lady loves us!” In the moments when the daily routine was the most difficult, one could often hear these words escaping the lips of fellow TFP member, Frederick Vincent Porfilio, better know as “Mr. Fred.” He had a keen notion of man’s contingency and the need of an unlimited confidence in the maternal solicitude and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mr. Fred was born of Italian immigrants in New York on September 28, 1939 and lived most of his life in the Bronx. He was a man of many talents and tried his hand at several professions. He was a taxi cab driver, carpenter, Army paratrooper, bartender and even an actor. The fact that he never persevered in any of them was a sure sign that Providence had other designs for this soul that would one day selflessly dedicate itself to the cause of defending Christian civilization.

Mr. Fred's military patches and insignias from his days as an Army paratrooper.

When Mr. Fred met The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) in 1975, he had already discerned the emptiness of everything the world had to offer him. Like the prodigal son returning to his father’s house, he left the world behind to embrace once again the Faith of his ancestors.

He once confided to me that, when he was aspiring to an acting career, he had to put on airs to impress the “talent sharks.” Seeing the hypocrisy in this, Mr. Fred resolved one evening to tell his would-be mentors what he really thought of them, thus closing the door forever on his acting career. Many years later, Mr. Fred would put his acting skills to good use in plays and skits for friends, youth and supporters at TFP conferences.

Mr. Fred stood out for his readiness and dedication to the many duties required of TFP members. He excelled in street campaigning and could always be counted on to shout slogans, sell magazines or distribute fliers. He was also ready to travel across the country and back when duty called.

Among his many talents were his carpentry skills. He made everything from beds to kneelers and even a huge medieval banquet table. As every good Italian, he was often found in the kitchen providing a tasty repast.

Guinness World Book certificate presented to Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) for its record 5.3 million signatures in defense of Lithuanian Independence.

In the last years of his life, Mr. Fred stood out for his leadership qualities. He was asked to lead a “caravan,” a group of young volunteers, which would travel the country in a massive petition drive collecting signatures for the independence of Lithuania. In 1990, Lithuania sought freedom from the tyranny of Soviet communism. In a worldwide effort, the TFPs collected more than five million signatures, across five continents, in what the 1993 Guinness Book of World Records termed the largest verifiable petition drive in history.

During this singular campaign initiative, the TFP caravans put in many miles and exhausting hours driving and visiting cities all across America. The caravans in the United States alone collected more than 800,000 signatures. During the long days, and the nights, the members were giving their all.

During this campaign, Mr. Fred was an example of dedication and enthusiasm. It was also at the height of this true service to Christian civilization that Divine Providence called Mr. Fred through a tragic car accident. On September 3, 1990, Mr. Fred died as a passenger in a van that accidentally went off the road and turned over in Tennessee.

God also called to Himself a young member of the caravan, Daryl Huang, who was the son of Chinese immigrants and was most dear to Our Lady in the short service he rendered to her cause.

On the twentieth anniversary of their deaths, The American TFP, its friends and supporters remember these two valiant souls and make their own the words and sentiments of TFP founder Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira who considered them as “two lilies that Our Lady harvested from the garden of the American TFP.”

Members of TFP delegation presenting (then) Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis with a parchment documenting TFP's monumental effort for his country.

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