Vietnam veteran recalls storied leader

Lance Cpl. Joseph Panetta, left, meets with his Lima Company captain, Col. John W. Ripley, during a July 2008 reunion in Florida.

by Jeremy Nobile

About 40 years passed since Lance Cpl. Joseph Panetta had seen his Lima Company captain, Col. John W. Ripley, in the jungles of Vietnam.

Considering the length of time and numerous Marines who served under him, Panetta was skeptical Ripley would even recognize him at the July 2008 reunion in Orlando, Fla. for Marines of the 3rd Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Division — an outfit better known as “Ripley’s Raiders.”

“After those 40-some years, I didn’t expect him to remember me,” Panetta recalled, “but he came right up to me and said, ‘Joe, how ya been?'”

Panetta, who was only 19 when he began his tour in Vietnam, was astonished.

“He said, ‘Joe, I remember you by your eyes,’ and I was stunned,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.

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