Col. John Ripley

Life of Colonel John Ripley

Statue of Captain Ripley which will be unveiled at the Marine Corps Museum on March 2, 2011.

The memory of Vietnam hero and Navy Cross recipient Colonel John Ripley, will now be etched in stone, or more precisely, bronze. Members of Ripley’s Raiders have been working on a project to honor their heroic commander for some time.

Col. Ripley Challenge Coin

Spread the word: A statue of Colonel Ripley will be unveiled on March 2, 2011 at the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia. The Colonel John Ripley Memorial website says that the statue will also “include the names of each and every Marine who served in Lima Company while Col. Ripley was company commander, especially those who gave their lives while defending our country under Col. Ripley’s leadership.”

This looks to be a splendid tribute to a very great man. Those who wish to be a part of this historic project can visit the website which gives all the particulars. For a donation of $25.00 or more you will receive a Col. Ripley challenge coin.

Those wishing to know more about Col. Ripley can obtain a copy of the first biography of the man by clicking here.

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Glenn Hockton wearing the rosary which helped save his life in Afghanistan

but I could not pass this story up, since it is along the same lines as the last post about the Catholic Marine.There are those who might consider such religious practices as something incompatible with heroism and the military life. However, true men, see the value of prayer, even AND MOST ESPECIALLY FOR WARRIORS.

Colonel John W. Ripley, to whom this blog is dedicated, screamed “Jesus, Mary, get me there,” when he saw his strength fading under the Dong Ha bridge. He did so because he saw the value of calling upon God (for Whom it is child’s play to create universes) in his hour of need. Colonel Ripley received the Navy Cross for his heroic efforts but readily admitted it would not have been possible without Divine Assistance and was not ashamed to say so in public.

This story is about a British Soldier named Glenn Hockton, who likewise attributes his survival, after two near death experiences in war, to the fact that he carries the rosary. On one occasion he was shot in the chest and his parents still have the bullet which lodged in his body armor. More recently his mother described how he felt like he had been slapped on the back. When his rosary fell to the ground, he reached down to pick it up, only to realize he was standing on a land mine. The ironic thing about this story is that Glenn’s grandfather, who fought in WWII, also attributed the rosary to saving his life, when he miraculously survived an explosion that killed six members of his platoon.  If you have not done so already, read the rest of this story by clicking here.

Similar stories have been documented in the articles No Greater Love and The Ideal Soldier.

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Excerpts from An American Knight by Norman Fulkerson about Col. Croizat:

Colonel Victor Croizat died of congestive heart failure on May 8, 2010 at his home in Santa Monica, California.

…”In 1954, Croizat was picking up the pieces of a broken Vietnam following the French defeat in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. After the partitioning of Vietnam and the implementation of Communism in the North, over 800,000 Vietnamese refugees, who did not want to live under the despotic regime, made their way south and were assisted by Croizat. His “untiring effort at first to rescue, and then to resettle the war-ravaged refugees had made him nearly a national hero in South Vietnam.”[1]

“Lieutenant Colonel Croizat would also go on to establish a South Vietnamese Marine Corps (SVMC) which would, under the direction of American advisors, develop into a serious fighting force. The relationship between the newly established SVMC and the Americans was cemented by a bond of trust. There was no hardship that the Vietnamese Marines suffered which was not also endured by their American counterparts.

“Basic to the creed was the sharing of food, danger, hardship and discomfort in the field. Wherever the Vietnamese commander hung his hammock, his American advisor hung his nearby.”[2]

“Lieutenant Colonel Croizat would go on to earn the respected title of Co-Van, Vietnamese for “trusted friend.” Out of the 6,000 American advisors in the 20 years following the formation of the Vietnamese Marines, only 600 would earn this title. ”


[1] Colonel Gerald Turley, The Easter Offensive: The Last American Advisors, Vietnam 1972 (Annapolis, Md.: US Naval Institute Press, 1995) p. 7.

[2] Donald Price, First Marine Captured in Vietnam (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007) p. 10

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June 29, 2010 would have been the 71st Birthday of Colonel John Ripley. Although he is no longer with us his memory, as Mary Susan Goodykoontz says so well in this book review of An American Knight, will live on forever.

Mary Susan Goodykoontz at her home in Radford, Virginia with a picture of her brother John Ripley, dangling under the Dong Ha bridge to her left.

“While the world knew my brother John as a Navy Cross recipient, I will always remember him simply as my darling little boy. Being the oldest member of our family I had the joy of caring for him as if he were my own child. It was for this reason that I was overjoyed when Norman Fulkerson contacted me, after John’s death, with the idea of writing a book about his life.

“The final product, titled An American Knight, gave me the chance to see a side of John I frankly never knew. Although I was well aware of his heroism at Dong Ha, I did not know he was such a legend in the Marine Corps, because he did not tell me those things. John was very humble.

“While I thoroughly enjoyed An American Knight and found it to be an extremely accurate account of my brother’s life, it was, at the same time, a painful read since it brought back so many happy memories of someone I sorely miss. I have had, since John’s death, this feeling that he would never die. That is to say that his memory would live forever. Now I know it certainly will because of Mr. Fulkerson’s book. As Irving Berlin, the Jewish-American songwriter said: “The song is ended but the melody lingers on.”

“On behalf of my family, of which I am the last living member, I say thank you!”

Mary Susan Goodykoontz,  Radford, Virginia

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A "gung ho" John Ripley as a Captain in Vietnam

By Debbie Thurman, DAILY COURIER
Saturday, April 3, 2010

This week Christians observed the Passion of Christ, the suffering servant but also the King of kings. Were he still among us, one warrior-servant whose deeply abiding faith and military prowess helped shape him into a legend — a latter-day knight — would be solemnly worshipping. He also likely would be recalling another Easter Sunday 38 years ago at almost precisely this time of year in a quaint but war-ravaged South Vietnamese village called Dong Ha.

In 1972, Marine Capt. John Ripley was in South Vietnam for the third time as one of the last American military advisers. His first two combat tours were as a rifle company commander. He was already the stuff of legend.

Read more by clicking here.

To purchase An American Knight: The Life of Col. John Ripley click here.

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Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph

A Review of Richard Botkin’s Recent Book: Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam Story of Honor and Triumph

By Michael Whitcraft
One of the most cited and least understood wars in American history is Vietnam.  Due to these misunderstandings, it has become synonymous with the words quagmire and disaster.

Thus, opponents of current military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan decry our operations there saying that America is getting itself into “another Vietnam.”  However, were US military activities in Southeast Asia really so bad after all?

The answer is yes and no: Yes, they were certainly a worldwide embarrassment as our troops left the field of battle without victory.  However, judged by the performance of America’s military, the answer must be a resounding no.  Sadly, politicians, not warriors, decided the outcome.

Thus, the true story of the American soldiers’ valor must be told.  Such was the task of Richard Botkin in his recent 650-page tome, Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph.  In it, he successfully fulfills this task by doing exactly what his title suggests: telling the story of the Vietnam War in terms of honor and triumph.

The book primarily focuses on three Marine heroes: Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley, USMC and Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Le Ba Binh. In telling their stories, Mr. Botkin seamlessly intertwines a retelling of the history of the entire Vietnam War.  His work is painstakingly researched, yet highly readable.

Certain points stand out among the many details of the book.  First, the immense suffering that the Vietnamese people suffered at the hands of the Communists.  Mr. Botkin vividly demonstrates this with incidents of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA) intentional targeting of innocent civilians.

After the end of the war, more challenges awaited the devastated South, including persecution from their Northern captors. This included the creation of “reeducation” camps throughout the country.  Despite their inconspicuous label, these camps had nothing to do with regaining lost knowledge.  As Mr. Botkin points out, the installation of these camps “was nothing more than organized revenge on a massive scale.” (p. 548)

Ride the Thunder includes the story of how Lieutenant Colonel Le Ba Binh was forced to spend more than eight years in one such camp, during which time he was allowed less than two hours total visit time with his family.

Another important point Mr. Botkin highlights is the military success the American and South Vietnamese armies enjoyed throughout the war.  He convincingly dispels many media-created myths that Vietnam was a lost cause.

The fact is that American forces did not lose a single battle of any consequence in the entire war, in spite of their self-defeating policy that allowed the enemy free communications along the Ho Chi Minh trail and safe havens in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam.  Even the oft-touted Tet Offensive of 1968 was a very real defeat for the NVA.

Despite the operation’s enormous scope, South Vietnamese and American forces had already regrouped and began a counterattack within hours of its first salvos.  They were so successful that other than continued fighting in Hue and Khe Sahn, the entire offensive was defeated within two weeks.  In Hue, expelling the Communists took twenty-seven days, while the enemy eventual abandoned Khe Sahn as well.

Therefore, the North Vietnamese did not gain any ground and loss an estimated 45-50 thousand troops KIA during the offensive.  Many more thousands were captured.  (American deaths during the entire war are estimated at around 58 thousand.)

All-in-all, military leadership classified the operation as a tremendous victory.  The only Communist victory of the campaign had been fought for America’s soul.  As Mr. Botkin described it: “the Communist offensive did achieve a public relations coup with the American public well beyond what a militarily defeated [NVA] could have possibly dreamed.” (p. 146)

However, a Communist operation in March of 1972 dwarfed Tet in size, aggressiveness and overall danger to South Vietnam.  Dubbed the Easter Offensive, it began with a simultaneous attack on twelve bases that spanned the entire length of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  From its very beginning, all known friendly artillery positions came under attack.

With American troops already largely withdrawn, the objective seemed obvious and frighteningly obtainable: break through the South’s weak defensive lines and drive southward to Saigon, thus winning the war and subjecting all of Vietnam to Communist domination.

Fortunately for the South, the Communist troops met unbelievable resistance that was greatly aided by the actions of three tough Marine officers who refused to give up.

The first was Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Binh, whose battalion (known as Soi Bien or “Wolves of the Sea”) held the ground defending a bridge across the Cua Viet River at the city of Dong Ha.  The bridge was highly strategic because it was the only crossing in the area sturdy enough to support the more than 200 tanks the NVA had assembled on the north side of the river.

Lieutenant Colonel Binh persistently held his ground in spite of overwhelming odds.  It was his training and leadership that kept the situation together in Dong Ha as his men faced the fight of their lives.

The Lieutenant Colonel’s determination is well demonstrated in a radio message he sent out to his commanders when rumors began to circulate that Dong Ha had fallen.  He said:

It is rumored that Dong Ha has fallen…My orders are to hold the enemy in Dong Ha.  We will fight in Dong Ha.  We will die in Dong Ha.  We will not leave.  As long as one Marine draws a breath of life, Dong Ha will belong to us. (pp. 327-328)

While the desperation of the situation led scores of South Vietnamese troops throughout the DMZ to desert, not a man of the Soi Bien left his post.

Colonel Le Ba Binh, left, at the funeral of Col. John Ripley with Gy. Sgt. Jason Carrawell.

Their efforts supported American Colonel John W. Ripley, then serving with Colonel Binh as an advisor.  He would need all the help he could get as he took on a mission to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge, in an endeavor so daring that it has become part of Marine Corps legend.

The bridge’s superstructure was a hulking construction that had been made by American Seabees.  It was supported by six enormous I-beams three feet tall.  To destroy it, Colonel Ripley would have to hand-walk and crawl 500 pounds of TNT and Plastic Explosives one hundred feet into its under belly.  All the while, he would be submitted to continual enemy fire.  His difficulties were multiplied by the sleep and food deprivation he had suffered throughout the previous days.

The feat was so difficult that no one believed survival, let alone successful completion, was possible.  Nevertheless, after hours of intense physical exertion, everything had been put in place, the charges were detonated and the bridge was no more.  Colonel Ripley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day.

Some historians have argued that the destruction of that bridge was the single most important factor that postponed the defeat of South Vietnam until 1975.

However, there is another individual on whose shoulders the defense of South Vietnam during the Easter Offensive weighed heavily, but who has received insufficient historic recognition so far.  That is why Mr. Botkin’s description of the role played by Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley is of particular value.

When the Lieutenant Colonel chose to return to Vietnam in 1971, there were only about one thousand Marines still on the ground.  Since President Nixon’s policy of “Vietnamization” was fully underway, the brunt of the fighting was being born by Vietnamese soldiers.  That is why Lieutenant Colonel Turley fully expected to see little if any action during this, his second tour.

His role as assistant senior Marine advisor would consist in helping senior Marine advisor Colonel Josh Dorsey and perhaps filling in for him from time to time.  As such, he would live in Saigon, which, at the time, was far removed from combat.  The closest he imagined he would come to actual fighting was an occasional and uneventful visit to the frontlines.

Colonel Gerald Turley, Vietnam hero and author of The Easter Offensive.

His expectations were shattered when, on a four-day visit to I Corps Tactical Zone, the Easter Offensive broke out.  He happened to be at 3rd ARVN Division forward headquarters at Ai Tu when the Army officer in charge there began suffering nervous problems, abandoned his post and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Turley to take the helm.

Worse yet, communications with higher leadership in Saigon were practically nonexistent, meaning this change in command went unreported.  In addition to facing the largest Communist advance of the entire war, Lieutenant Colonel Turley also had to confront hostile and mistrustful leaders, who continually second guessed his decisions and attempted to countermand many of his orders.  The situation was so desperate, he was forced to take responsibility for disregarding some of the directives he received from higher-ups.

While other players in the offensive faced their predicament with the support of their leaders, expecting praise if they survived, Lieutenant Colonel Turley could only anticipate disciplinary action and perhaps court martial.

Diorama depicting Colonel John Ripley underneath the Dong Ha bridge located in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy.

Even when he ordered Colonel Ripley to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge, he did so against the direct wishes of his commanders.  However, the reality of over two hundred tanks about to cross the Cua Viet River and invade South Vietnam was too dangerous for him to accept when he had the possibility to prevent it.

In spite of having no food, virtually no sleep and a severe case of dysentery, he faced the opposition of his superiors and stood by his post, directing air, naval and ground operations that salvaged a desperate situation.  He continued in this capacity for a full four days until he was ordered back to headquarters for questioning.  The physical, psychological and moral stress he faced during this time can hardly be imagined.

Nevertheless, he survived and emerged as one of the greatest examples of “honor and triumph” of the entire war.

The stories of these three heroes and much more are included in Rich Botkin’s Ride the Thunder.  This makes it a must-read for all military-buffs, American patriots and especially those who are interested in knowing the true history of the Vietnam War – one not tainted by politically correct historians intent on criticizing America and especially its military.

However, readers should be warned that Mr. Botkin’s book, while less offensive than many military volumes, does have its share of profanity, which he mostly limited to the contents of direct quotes from characters in the book.  Similarly, there are references, though not graphic, to those activities that have unfortunately been so closely linked with soldiers throughout history.

Nevertheless, Ride the Thunder is an exciting and highly informative read.  No one’s military library is complete without it.

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BradyP

Medal of Honor Recipient General Patrick H. Brady

Cmoh_army

Medal of Honor

Comments of Medal of Honor Recipient, General Patrick H. Brady US Army (Ret.) on Colonel John W. Ripley and the book “An American Knight.

“I have never known anyone with enduring repetitive courage who was not also a person of faith. In combat my faith was for me a substitute for fear; it was a source of comfort, calm and courage — it allowed me to do things that for me would have otherwise been impossible. John Ripley was also a man of faith. It was clearly the source of his extraordinary physical and moral courage. He was a true hero, not a celebrity. Not only a person who performed acts of courage, rather he was a good person who performed acts of courage. Only when you combine courage with goodness do you have a true hero.  His goodness crowned his courage and defined his character which marked him as an extraordinary example for those who follow the warriors path.

“It is for this reason that I highly recommend Norman Fulkerson’s book on John Ripley, An American Knight, to all who seek to understand heroism.

General Patrick H. Brady, US Army (Ret.)

Medal of Honor Recipient

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John Ripley (left) earned the nickname Baby Buck at an early age. His mischievous eyes transmitted a boundless energy to all those around him. The affectionate bond between him and his brother, Michael, was evident early on.

John Ripley (left) earned the nickname Baby Buck at an early age. His mischievous eyes transmitted a boundless energy to all those around him. The affectionate bond between him and his brother, Michael, was evident early on.

“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”
— Unknown

Excerpt from “An American Knight”.

It was evident at the time of his birth on June 29, 1939, that John Walter Ripley’s life would not be easy. Francis and Verna Ripley were living in Keystone, West Virginia and no sooner had they arrived home with their newborn when he had to be rushed back to the hospital because of an illness that almost took his life. Although no one remembers what the ailment was, it seemed appropriate that a man, who would endure every imaginable hardship on the battlefield, should begin his life with a struggle.

This natal fight in no way dampened his vivacious spirit, and his fight for life might have been what led his father to give him the nickname Baby Buck. Coupled with his rambunctious nature, the image of a wild horse immediately comes to mind with this fatherly pet name.

Francis Droit Ripley was described by those who knew him as possessing one of those unique personalities that are so lamentably rare in the modern world. He was rarely seen without a cigar in his mouth and then, only temporarily for Sunday Mass, which he never missed. The presence of this cigar and his gruff, straightforward way of being earned him several nicknames of his own. The one he most disliked was FDR and the one that most fit him was Bulldog. Most people just called him Bud, a name so frequently used that his own grandchildren often inquired what his real name was.

Francis Droit “Bud” Ripley (left of center) was all smiles as a Naval Academy midshipman with his friends. His joy was later turned to sorrow when he was expelled for missing his boat in Hawaii.

Francis Droit “Bud” Ripley (left of center) was all smiles as a Naval Academy midshipman with his friends. His joy was later turned to sorrow when he was expelled for missing his boat in Hawaii.

Bud Ripley was keenly aware that his ancestors had fought in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War, including some who fought on different sides of the Civil War. There was something distinctly military about him, although his own military aspirations were cut short when he, much to his father’s chagrin, was expelled from the United States Naval Academy. It was not because of poor grades. In fact, his younger brother Louis, who went on to become a renowned orthopedic surgeon, considered him to be one of the most intelligent men he knew.

Bud’s expulsion occurred because of his curious nature. As a midshipman serving in the fleet, he went to visit a volcano while his ship was docked in Hawaii. As he was returning from his excursion, he realized that he had missed the boat—both figuratively and literally—and along with it the chance to be a commissioned officer. This missed opportunity left its mark on Bud Ripley and from that point forward, he always carried himself as a military man. He was well-groomed, well spoken and, above all, disciplined.

After this disappointing affair, he followed in the footsteps of his father, Walter Starr Ripley, and pursued a career with the railroad, became a mechanical engineer and later manager for the Norfolk & Western (N&W). He was determined, however, that his sons would not make the same mistake he had and cultivated in them the virtues so important for a military career. Foremost among them were a fanatical drive never to waste an opportunity, the tenacity to never quit and diligence in one’s duty.

This same spirit of determination is what must have animated Baby Buck one day as he crawled across the living room floor. He was only eighteen months old at the time, yet he approached the family sofa with a look of resolve that

became so much a part of his personality. When he reached the sofa, he pulled himself up to a standing position and then attempted, with great effort, to climb onto the couch, but his little legs were unable to fulfill the task. Verna was moved by the scene and approached in order to help. Francis Droit stopped her cold in her tracks.

“No, don’t help him, let him do it on his own,” he said, taking the ever-present cigar from his mouth. “He will learn.” After several attempts, Baby Buck did in fact achieve his goal and was no worse for the effort. It was a valuable lesson in perseverance… Read more.

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An American Knight: The Life of Colonely John W. Ripley USMC

First biography of legendary Marine Corps Colonel John W. Ripley.

by Norman Fulkerson

On November 1, 2008, Ron Darden was watching the evening news when an item, scrolling across the bottom of the screen, caught his eye. He was shocked to find out that his former company commander, Colonel John Walter Ripley, had died at his home in Annapolis, Maryland.

On that same day, I decided to write An American Knight, The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, the first biography of this great man.

*                       *                       *

Sergeant Darden admitted that he was afraid when, as a 19-year-old lance corporal, he first joined Lima Company. He drew guard duty on his first night in Vietnam and described how his fears were put to ease when he received an unexpected visit from Captain John Ripley, Lima Company’s fearless commander, who jumped into the foxhole next to him.  The solicitous captain asked Darden where he was from, if he was married and how his parents were getting along without him.

During this night visit, John Ripley spoke to Ron Darden with the gentleness of a father and told him it was okay to be afraid, but that he should not let his fears dominate him. Sergeant Darden would go on to earn a Silver Star when he ran out into the middle of a firefight to save the life of a wounded Marine who lay helpless on the ground. He is a man who has seen the worst of war while serving under the best of battle field commanders.

As Darden related stories about John Ripley during a phone interview, I sensed that this Silver-Star-recipient was fighting back tears as he remembered this remarkable man and that unforgettable night so many years ago. He could not believe the lack of news coverage of this great man. His surprise quickly turned to frustration and then anger as he searched for more details about the passing of a man, who, long before his untimely death had already been revered as a “living legend.”

The news of Colonel Ripley’s death did in fact begin to hit the airwaves and his obituary eventually appeared in

Painting by Col. Charles Waterhouse of John Ripley dangling above the Cua Viet River as angry North Vietnamese soldiers fire upon him.

Painting by Col. Charles Waterhouse of John Ripley dangling above the Cua Viet River as angry North Vietnamese soldiers fire upon him.

The New York Times.What the Times and so many others newspaper articles recounted was the story of a man who blew up the Dong Ha bridge on Easter Sunday in 1972. This is understandable considering that Colonel Ripley almost singlehandedly halted the largest Communist offensive of the entire Vietnam War. This amounted to stopping 30,000 enemy troops and 200 tanks. He was successful in this task and would later sum up in actions in a succinct way:

“The bridge was there, the enemy was there, and I was there.”

Desiring to Tell the Whole Truth

What he did on that day defies belief and I could not fail to narrate the Dong Ha story in An American Knight. There is so much more to Colonel Ripley, however, that has been conveniently overlooked or glossed over by those either unable or unwilling to tell the whole truth. Colonel Ripley was a rare type of warrior who willingly and, his sons told me, enthusiastically addressed a number of politically incorrect issues of his day.

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Ashley Gonzalez of the United States Air force. No comment!!!

I saw the importance of one of the issues he addressed when I was “mugged by reality” in an airport some years ago by the sight of a young lady about to board a plane. She was a picture of femininity, in every way, except for her battle fatigues and the rucksack thrown over her shoulder. Moments later, her tearful parents said their final farewells to a daughter being sent off to do a man’s job.

It was only natural, therefore, that I drew an enormous consolation when I first read the heroic testimony of Colonel Ripley against sending women, like this one, into harm’s way. While others paid homage to the “god of equality,” he chose to defend the noble ideals of womanhood and femininity. This, and his care for children, were the things which caused me to see in Colonel Ripley a modern-day knight.

Since justice is the virtue whereby man renders to each what is due to him, I could do nothing less for this great man. This was one of the motivating factors which urged me to write his life. Mysteriously enough, I was egged on in this project as much by Colonel Ripley himself, as anyone. In a letter to a friend he said something which struck me like a voice from beyond the grave: “If a young officer or Marine ever asks, what is the meaning of Semper Fidelis, tell them my story.” After reading such a thing, I could not fail to tell this man’s story?

“I Walked with a Hero.”

There was another motivating factor which urged me on and that was my desire to console hero-seeking-Americans who yearn for a role model like Colonel Ripley who they can admire and emulate. During the researching of An American Knight, I took time to read numerous website commentaries and was inspired by the eulogies posted by average Americans.

One man, no doubt inspired by the Marines’ Hymn which speaks of Heaven being guarded by U.S. Marines said the following.

“We claim Semper Fidelis as our motto, but it was Col. Ripley’s life. His loyalty was complete, in all directions. The earth is less today without his soul, but the heavens are a safer place tonight.”

Another comment was even more impressive but demands an introduction.

Colonel Ripley was an outstanding officer who took great pride in the position he earned. This can be seen in the picture I chose for the cover of An American Knight. Yet he was a man that had a profound humility and never wanted attention drawn to himself. Colonel Ripley was not a man who tried to impress others with his Navy Cross or his legendary status. In fact he would often point out the achievements of those of lesser rank and frequently expressed his unbounded appreciation for the common Marine Corps grunts that “get the job done.”

He did this in a very refreshing way without ever adopting the “one of the guys” egalitarian attitude, so lamentably

John Ripley (right) as a Naval Academy midshipman with his brother Michael who died while test flying the Harrier.

John Ripley (right) as a Naval Academy midshipman with his brother Michael who died in 1971 while test flying the Harrier.

common among many people of higher station. Colonel Ripley was, from top to bottom, a serious Marine Corps officer and was not ashamed of it. Yet he never missed the opportunity to challenge those around him to reach higher. It is for this reason that towards the end of his life he gave himself wholeheartedly to mentoring. He loved to counsel young men starting out on their military careers, especially those of the United States Naval Academy, his alma mater, which he loved with his whole heart.

All of this helps in understanding better a comment of a midshipman after Colonel Ripley’s death:

“This is the same man who sat at dinner with me and asked me, a first class midshipman, about to be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, to sign his program for the evening because he was going to read about me in the papers and all the great things I did for the Marine Corps. I walked with a hero. Semper Fidelis.”

Rest in Peace Now!

I saved the best eulogy for last. It came from a mother of four, who defined herself, even if inaccurately, as a simple American women.” I pray that she someday know how moved I was to read her words.

“I never had the honor of meeting Col. John Ripley. In fact, before a dear friend suggested that I look him up, I had never heard his name. But I have sat here and read stories of his life and countless postings by the people that loved him and will miss him dearly. I am a simple American woman enjoying a world that Col. Ripley dedicated his life to protecting. I am humbled by the recounts of his heroism and tireless dedication to his country. I suppose I’d just like to say thank you. Thank you from the core of my being and on behalf of my four children. When the time is right, I will tell each of them of this great man, Col. John Ripley. May God bless your soul.”

I thank you also Colonel Ripley. Rest in peace now, I will them your story.

Back cover Marine

Back cover of An "American Knight". A solitary Marine pays his final respects beside the coffin of Colonel John Ripley.

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Colonel Ripley with Members of TFP Student Action.

Colonel Ripley with members of TFP Student Action.

A Story of Exceptional Valor and Faith

by Cesar Franco

An old adage states that you only meet two great people in a lifetime. After visiting Col. John W. Ripley, I can say I met my first one.

As Col. Ripley politely invited my colleagues from Tradition, Family and Property Student Action and me into his office on October 31, I felt tremendously honored to meet one of America’s greatest living war heroes — a man who served on active duty for thirty five years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Before serving two tours in Vietnam, he completed scuba, Ranger, airborne and jump master training. He was also an Exchange Officer to the British Royal Marines, during which time he participated in a Northern Malaysian campaign with the famous Gurkha Rifles.

One Marine Cripples North Vietnamese Invasion

Diorama depicting Colonel John Ripley’s exploits in Dong Ha. It is located in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Diorama depicting Colonel John Ripley’s exploits in Dong Ha. It is located in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Col. Ripley is most famous for blowing up the bridge at Dong Ha in Vietnam. He accomplished this act of epic heroism after three days of intense combat, without any food or sleep. A few sips of water from his canteen provided his only sustenance. This superhuman feat crippled the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter invasion which ended in defeat. Thus, the government honored Col. Ripley’s leadership, heroism and self-sacrifice at Dong Ha with a Navy Cross, America’s second highest military decoration.

Members of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition Family and Property (TFP) present Colonel John Ripley with a rosary. "This rosary will not collect dust," said Colonel Ripley in response to this gift.

Members of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition Family and Property (TFP) present Colonel John Ripley with a rosary. "This rosary will not collect dust," said Colonel Ripley in response to this gift.

Col. Ripley is also a man of faith. He attributes the destruction of the Dong Ha bridge to the grace of God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He related how he felt all physical strength evaporate while placing explosives under the bridge. To continue, he composed a simple rhyming prayer: “Jesus, Mary, get me there… Jesus, Mary, get me there…” He repeatedly said this prayer on the bridge and a supernatural assistance came to his aid at a much-needed time. He stated: “This aid was tangible. It was all-consuming.” His mission would have been impossible without it.

After this operation, Colonel Ripley’s mission was far from over. Unlike Hollywood movies, in which a bridge blows up and everyone lives happily ever after, the North Vietnamese found an alternate route. During the next days of fighting, Life Magazine published a famous picture of Colonel Ripley running as a mortar round blows up nearby. He showed us this amazing photograph during our meeting and many other war relics.

Chivalrous Behavior for a Fallen Soldier

Pointing to his picture, he recounted its exciting story. As the enemy approached within yards, he loaded the dead bodies of five news correspondents into an armored personnel carrier, putting himself in harm’s way. Then the armored personnel carrier left without him.

He was stranded with the limp, lifeless body of his radio man. As the enemy drew closer, he refused to run for cover. Like the knights of old, he preferred to die rather then abandon his fellow soldier’s body. He would not leave his radio man behind even though he was in clear view of the advancing enemy.

He picked up the body of his radio man and walked away very slowly, expecting a bullet to hit him at any moment. Suddenly, some South Vietnamese bodyguards or “cowboys,” as he called them, popped up over a ledge about 100 meters away and addressed him by his Vietnamese nickname, which meant “Captain Crazy.” They told him to duck while they sprayed cover fire allowing him to make a desperate 100-meter dash for safety. Smiling, Colonel Ripley recalled how he ran those 100 meters in 3 seconds!

The Four Bullets

TFP member holds the four bullets that nearly took the life of Colonel Ripley.

TFP member holds the three bullets that nearly took the life of Colonel Ripley. The fourth one he found on the Island of Iwo Jima.

While showing us some of his war relics, he pulled something out of his pocket. It was a brass-colored safety pin that connected four bullets. Grinning, he said: “I am personally acquainted with three of these.” One bullet pierced through the deck of the chopper in which he was flying and struck a magazine clip on his ammo belt, barely stopping its entry into his abdomen!

“When I’m having a bad day,” he said, “I pull these out of my pocket and say to myself, no, it’s not that bad… I’m not having such a bad day.”

He also showed us a neatly arranged collection of stamps he had acquired from a captured North Vietnamese postal worker.

What Is True Leadership?

The most interesting part of our meeting was when Colonel Ripley explained the essence of a true leader is one who sets the example and shows his troops how to act, rather than tell them what to do from a desk and ask them to report back. Colonel Ripley is one such leader. He never shied away from action, but always preferred to be on the front lines with his men.

In addition to being deadly on the battlefield, this tough marine is also lethal in the realm of ideas. After hearing about

TFP member John Miller debates the Traditional Marriage issue with a student at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut California.

TFP member John Miller debates the Traditional Marriage issue with a student at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut California.

the TFP Student Action debates on university campuses, he described the wonderful time he had appearing on Crossfire to debate a female Air Force general defending the need for women in the military. She could not stand up against the bulletproof logic of Colonel Ripley’s real life combat experience.

Tribute, Respect and Admiration

Colonel Ripley deserves our tribute, respect and admiration.

He taught us that to be a true leader one must have faith in God and Our Lady. He explained how being a leader means setting the example. Moreover, his heroic actions at Dong Ha speak even louder than his words.

It was truly an honor and privilege to meet this model soldier, a man with profound zeal for the Catholic Church and high ideals for which he is willing to give his life. My TFP colleagues and I will never forget him.

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