Col. John Ripley

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by: John Horvat

The citizens of Radford, Virginia took time out on this Veterans Day 2013 to honor one of their own, the late Col. John Ripley, USMC. Since his untimely death in October 2008, this grateful city in southwestern Virginia, through a group termed the “Ripley Committee,” has honored the Marine legend in a number of ways.

Through their efforts, a painting of the late colonel in his dress blues was dedicated last Veterans Day and now hangs in the Radford Public Safety Building lobby. Earlier this year, Radford City council went one step further and declared April 2 to be Colonel John Ripley Day.

In another gesture of devotion, the decision was made to go yet one more step with the renaming of the University Drive Bridge after their favorite son. Visitors to the city will now cross the Col. John Ripley Bridge when they visit the New River and take a peak at Castle Island, where the city’s “Huckleberry Finn” lived his adventurous boyhood.

On hand for the dedication was Col. Ripley’s sister Mary Susan Goodykoontz (pictured above) and TFP member Norman Fulkerson. As the author of An American Knight, the only biography to date of the late colonel, he was invited to speak and was received by locals with a standing ovation. Many had read his gripping account of a man they had known as a mischievous youth whose eyes “danced with a sense of wonder” and who later earned legendary status in the Marine Corps. Col. Ripley was most commonly known for having halted the largest Communist offensive of the Vietnam War when he destroyed the Dong Ha Bridge on April 2, 1972. Mr. Fulkerson chose to focus his remarks on the man’s moral courage.

Norman Fulkerson opened his brief remarks by commenting on the “irony of naming a bridge after a man who was most commonly known for destroying one.”

He opened his brief remarks by commenting on the “irony of naming a bridge after a man who was most commonly known for destroying one.” Enriching this theme he explained how the Dong Ha Bridge was not the only structure Col. Ripley destroyed during his memorable life.

“We live in a very bad world,” Mr. Fulkerson explained, “and there is a subtle tactic among those who hold contrary opinions to get us to make concessions on our principles. This is a gradual process that he metaphorically referred to as “building bridges” between conservative and liberal opinions. Through such a tactic, he concluded, we are not asked to give everything at once but merely make small compromises. Col. Ripley was not one to fall for such a tactic, as was exemplified with the proverbial “bridges” he destroyed through his energetic testimonies against allowing open homosexuals to serve in the Armed Forces and sending women into combat.

He finished his remarks by explaining how Col. Ripley did build one bridge. It was a task to which he devoted his whole life. It was the “bridge that would link him to God, our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Marines’ Hymn has a stanza that speaks of the streets of Heaven being guarded by United States Marines, Mr. Fulkerson concluded. “When we cross the bridge he erected, I feel certain we will meet one great United States Marine on the other side, Col. John Ripley.”

 

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Former CIA Director David Petraeus

by Norman Fulkerson

For many years, General. David Petraeus was the public face of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was seen as a battle-hardened veteran, a four-star general who enjoyed what many called a “storied career.” Thirty six year Marine Corps veteran General John Allen has a similarly illustrious career and was awaiting confirmation on his nomination to become Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Both of these warriors were seen as men of honor. This image has been crushed: first by the admittance of General Petraeus to an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell which has now wrecked his career and could destroy a 37- year marriage: then by the voluminous email exchanges, now being scrutinized for wrongdoing, between General Allen and what the media is labeling as Broadwell’s archrival, Jill Kelley.

Unanswered Questions
We now find ourselves standing in the glow of a giant media spotlight that is turning this story into juicy soap opera. Political pundits are raising reasonable suspicion that all this is merely a smokescreen to take attention off the Benghazi attack which left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead and a lot of unanswered questions. Others still are raising national security concerns over whether or not General Petraeus shared classified information with his paramour. While these are valid concerns, there are others that those shining the spotlight have conveniently overlooked.>>

Thankfully there are many who question the morality of Paula Broadwell, a married woman and mother of two, being “embedded with the troops” which set the stage for this particular scandal. Sexual scandals, however, be they consensual or by way of assault and harassment, are lamentably becoming all too common in our modern military.

According to the Army’s own “Gold Book,” a report on wartime personnel stress made public by the Center for Military Readiness, sexual assaults have increased in all branches by 22 percent since 2007 and violent rape has doubled since 2006. This should naturally lead a person to recognize the obvious pitfalls of a mixed Armed Forces and the now hotly contested issue of women in combat. This is a blatant denial of man’s human frailty, a consequence of our fallen nature. Whereas we should be praying with renewed fervor for God to “lead us not into temptation,” we turn a blind eye towards the wrecking ball of social experimentation wreaking havoc on our military. One sad consequence is the disgrace which Mrs. Petraeus, Mrs. Allen and their families now have to endure.

General John Allen is considered by many to be a man of impeccable character.

A similar question has yet to be raised with the case of General Allen. There was mention early on that he could stand trial for adultery which is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). This manual, the foundation for military law in the United States, also holds sodomy to be a crime, yet during the debates concerning repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” this manual was never mentioned. The so-called upholders of morality were initially holding Gen Allen’s feet to the fire for what, thankfully, is still considered unacceptable behavior (adultery), yet they gushingly embrace the unnatural vice of sodomy. Homosexuals are allowed to live side by side with the men of honor who still exist in our military. They are allowed to make a political statement–stringently denied other servicemen—by marching in homosexual parades in uniform. They kiss their same-sex lovers upon returning from oversees, and these flagrant violations against the UCMJ and basic morality are never mentioned.

Shattered Dreams
The biggest concern however is the deleterious effect such scandals have on Americans who yearn to see men of honor. There are many people, for example, who consider General John Allen to be a man of impeccable character. John Ullyot who served with him said he “was known as a warrior monk.” Is this a mere chimera?>

In a society which appreciates the value of honor, appropriate actions would have to been taken, but any disgrace would be kept discreet, not continually aired for all to see like the proverbial “dirty laundry.”>

At the writing of this article, General Allen has forcefully denied inappropriate behavior. We pray this is the case, but even if he is totally exonerated of wrong doing, his career just might be over. Worse yet, his image as a man of honor is irreparably smeared and there will be no New York Times’ article to sufficiently repair the damage done to him and those who loved what he represented, even if he is proven innocent. Those who had looked upon him with pride are left to pick up the pieces of the marvelous dream he embodied and hold their breath for fear that others might suddenly meet the same fate. Can a nation continue to exist without such dreams?>

Those in search of dreams and those who destroy them are much like the sons of Noah who survived God’s punishing deluge. The noble prophet had unintentionally become intoxicated with wine and was reduced to a state of disorientation. Scripture describe how two of his sons preserved their father’s dignity by walking backwards with a cloak to cover his nakedness. Such was their appreciation for what their father represented. The other son took an entirely different attitude, laughed at his father’s drunken state and was subsequently cursed.>

One cannot help but see a parallel to the scandals that are unfolding before us. While we cannot compare the central figures in this drama to a man of Noah’s stature, we can identify the two opposing attitudes of his sons with two types of Americans and how they see our military. There are those who love the military and cannot help but admire its member’s daily sacrifices and heroic service. They recognize that we sleep comfortably at night because our brave servicemen faithfully stand watch. There are others, however, who seem to take joy in finding examples of dishonor and deserve the same punishment meted out to the bad son of Noah.

"Ship of Honor"

The Ship of Honor

This all leads an admirer of honor to wonder if the institution of the military has not suffered the same fate as the Titanic which sank 100 years ago. Has the proverbial ship of honor sunk?

There is a very beautiful legend famous among the people of Brittany in France called la Cathedrale Engloutie (“The Submerged Cathedral”). It speaks of an old city that was submerged by a mysterious cataclysm in the Atlantic Ocean, not too far off the coast of Europe. On certain nights when the moon is full and the tide is low, one can see the majestic steeple of the town Cathedral among the waves. From time to time, it is said, angels ring the cathedral’s bells at the bottom of the sea. Those beautiful sounds then rise all the way to the surface, allowing fishermen going by, on a calm evening with a tranquil sea, to hear them. Those same fishermen say that one day the cathedral will return to dry land even more beautiful, as it has been kept unscathed under the waves.
While this is only a story, we could say this legend describes our beloved military which sometimes appears to be like a sunken ship of honor. Those who love honor in our day also experience moments like the calm evening on a tranquil sea. They know that this ship of Honor will also return to dry land even more beautiful because it also remains unscathed under the waves.

We can hear the “bells of honor” in men like Marine Corps Colonel John Ripley, Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace. They allow us to hear the bells of honor because they kept their honor clean.

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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.

To read more CLICK HERE.

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Written by The American TFP
As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the destruction of the Dong Ha Bridge, our thoughts naturally turn to Colonel
John Ripley, the man at the center of the story.
Spring Grove, PA(March 2012) — To most of the world April 2, 2012, will be just another early spring day. To members of the armed forces, veterans, their families, military historians, and other patriotic Americans, the date will evoke images of unfathomable courage: an exhausted Marine captain crawling through razor wire and hand-walking beneath a bridge in Vietnam, rounds from enemy fire blazing all around him, sustained through the ordeal by his sense of duty, his love of country, and his utter reliance on a Higher Power.
The 40th anniversary of the destruction of the Dong Ha Bridge — which delayed the North Vietnamese Army from taking Saigon for another three years — is a key historical milestone. Yet Norman J. Fulkerson hopes that Americans will commemorate this day by taking a moment to reflect on the example set by the man at the center of this case study in heroism. Not just during the operation itself but throughout his life, Colonel John Walter Ripley displayed a rare and priceless quality: moral courage.“While very few of us could come close to achieving the raw physical courage he possessed, we can emulate Colonel Ripley’s moral courage,” says Fulkerson, author of An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC (The American TFP, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-877905-41-4, $14.95).
“Our world is crying out for it. In times like these — marked by cultural decay, the unraveling of the principles that made our nation great, and widespread hopelessness and despair — we need men of moral courage more than ever.”
Fulkerson’s tribute to Colonel Ripley certainly appeals to military circles. (Indeed, the book was the Military Writers Society of America 2010 Gold Medal Winner.) Yet he hopes that its message will resonate with civilians who see much to be admired and valued in the story of a man who truly lived his values. It not only provides a gripping description of the Dong Ha Bridge operation (click here for an excerpt from the book), it paints a portrait of a man who truly personifies modern-day American knighthood.How did Ripley’s moral courage manifest itself in his life? Fulkerson offers the following insights:
Read more, click here.

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Colonel Gerald Turley right with the author.

Hero of the Easter Offensive

by Norman Fulkerson

The history of the 20th Century saw the spread of Communism the world over the virtual river of blood left in its wake was unprecedented. Communist expansion was greatly facilitated in the West through subtle psychological maneuvers and a policy of appeasement which weakened the anti communist’s will to resist.

From ping pong matches with China to baseball games in Cuba, Western leaders carried out a foolishly optimistic approach to the advancing red wolf. While Communist leaders conquered vast territories at gun point –putting hundreds of millions to death in the process– those same optimists dreamed of disarming the enemy with conciliatory smiles and concessions (a policy which continues until today).

That dream was proven to be a nightmare forty years ago when a handful of brave South Vietnamese soldiers and American servicemen faced and ultimately repelled the largest Communist onslaught of the entire Vietnam War. It was all made possible through fortuitous circumstances which placed Colonel Gerald Turley, then a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, in a crucial position of authority for four adventurous days. His fearless decision making and intestinal fortitude turned certain defeat into a stunning victory and prevented a humiliating outcome for American forces.

First Salvos of the Easter Offensive

At the height of the Vietnam War in 1968, there were over 500,000 American servicemen in the country. Over the next years that number would be drastically reduced when President Richard Nixon took office in January of 1969. His Vietnamization program was aimed at getting American troops out of the country and turning the war over to the Vietnamese.

In the following years massive amounts of Soviet and Chinese weaponry made its way to North Vietnam. This included Soviet MiG aircraft, T-54, T-55 and PT-76 Russian tanks, Surface to Air (SAM) and heat-seeking missiles and an abundance of 130 MM to 152MM artillery.[1] In March of 1972 there were only 50,000 American servicemen in the country. The imminent withdrawal of American support and the buildup of armaments in the North proved to be demoralizing to the South Vietnamese anti communist resistance. They had good reason to be discouraged.

However, what the Vietnamese did not realize at that time, was the quality of the American advisors who returned to help. One of those men was Colonel Gerald Turley. He had already served in the Korean War and had now voluntarily returned to Vietnam for a second tour of duty in a war that was becoming more unpopular by the day.

On Wednesday March 29, only days after arriving in the country, Colonel Turley was in the middle of a four-day trip visiting the firebases, along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). He spent the night at the 3rd ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Division Headquarters in the AI TU combat base, located five miles south of the Dong Ha village.

The following morning was spent in briefings followed by lunch. When he stepped out of the dining tent the area was suddenly struck by intense artillery fire. It was the first salvos of the historic battle that would come to be known as The Easter Offensive.

“So many artillery shots were going off,” said Colonel Turley, “you could not distinguish one from the other.”[2] Before the sun set that day, over 11,000 rounds[3] rained down on the South Vietnamese firebases and surrounding villages in the northern part of Quang Tri province; and more was to come.

Colonel John Ripley (second from left) with Colonel Gerald Turley (second from right) days before the beginning of the Easter Offensive.

The Hunted Become the Hunters

For eighteen hours the South endured a hellish barrage. On the morning of March 31, the Army Colonel in charge of the 3rd ARVN Division began to suffer from combat fatigue. He eventually approached Colonel Turley with a surprising request.

“Would you mind taking over here for a couple of hours,” he asked.

“I am Marine and am only here as an advisor,” Colonel Turley replied. “I can’t do that.” When the Army Colonel insisted, Colonel Turley asked for his name and Social Security number which he quickly scribbled down on a piece of paper. This seemingly insignificant incident made Colonel Turley the Senior Advisor in charge of the entire 3rd ARVN Division and changed the course of the battle. For the next four days he made numerous critical decisions which ultimately broke the back of the adversary.

His task would not be an easy one however. His newly acquired area of responsibility spanned the five northernmost provinces of South Vietnam. Between his location in the Command and Control bunker (COC) and the DMZ was twelve firebases manned by South Vietnamese Marines and their American advisors. Over the next days ten of those firebases, including Camp Carroll with its 1,500 troops and twenty-six artillery pieces, fell into enemy hands that were advancing in a three pronged attack.

By Easter Sunday over thirty thousand civilians were making their way down Highway 1 in a desperate attempt to flee the wrath of the adversary. Communist NVA artillery fire was strategically placed right on top of them. Those surviving the deadly rounds melted back into the masses and kept moving. South Vietnamese soldiers, seeing the futility of resistance, removed their military insignias and blended in with the frenzied mob.

“It was absolutely the worst scene I have ever witnessed,” said Colonel Turley,[4] his words trailing off as if the image was too painful to revisit.

The NVA, seeing the South’s weakness, exploited it to the maximum degree and began an unhindered advance towards the Dong Ha Bridge with 30,000 troops and 200 tanks. They were in for a big surprise upon their arrival. The brave men of the 3rd Division under Colonel Turley’s leadership were about to turn the tables. From being hunted, they were about to become the hunters.

This Diorama, located in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy, dramatically illustrates Colonel Ripley's Heroism during the destruction of the Dong Ha bridge. .

Caught In the Cross Hairs of Naval and Air Gunfire

Colonel Turley, who was personally given a carte blanche for B-52 strikes in I CORPS by an Air Force Lieutenant General, ordered over fifty such missions.[5] He then ordered the 3rd ARVN Division to commit its reserve Battalion, the famed “Soi Bien” or Sea Wolves, commanded by Major Le Ba Binh, and legendary Marine Corps Captain (later Colonel) John Ripley. It was the equivalent of playing ones last card.

Leaders in the Army Regional Headquarters at Da Nang, eighty miles south from AI TU, did not realize the gravity of events along the DMZ. They ordered Colonel Turley not to blow the bridge since it would be useful for a counter offensive. Colonel Turley knew there would be no counter measure if the bridge was left standing and courageously ordered Colonel Ripley to destroy it.[6]

With the Dong Ha bridge in flames NVA tanks made a futile rush for the Cam Lo bridge west of the city. Their elongated column provided a perfect target for Naval Gunfire from the USS Buchanan sitting in the Gulf of Tonkin and the B-52 strikes which Colonel Turley had requested hours earlier. The column of Russian tanks was now caught in the cross hairs of naval and air gunfire.

“When the thundering noise and the violent shock waves of the 250 or more bombs… finally subsided, [Colonel] Ripley reported “hearing the cries of the survivors, but no more engine noises.”[7]

“…Continue Naval Gunfire”

Later in the afternoon of that same day another problem developed when an EB-66 Electronic intelligence aircraft was shot down. The only survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Iceal Hambleton, was a ballistic missile expert with top secret clearance.[8]  

The Air Force called for a cease fire in a seventeen-mile-radius of the downed pilot which practically encompassed the entire area of operations of the 3rd. Division.[9] When an American Jolly Green HH-53 helicopter tried to rescue the pilot it was struck by a SAM Missile and burst into flames. Ten more aircraft were lost during the eleven-day rescue mission.

Once again Colonel Turley would have to go directly against orders from higher command. To stop firing would have spelled certain defeat and he was not about to lose this battle.

“Fully realizing the fragile defensive posture of the 3rd Division and the seriousness of again violating a direct order,” Colonel Turley said, “I authorized the advisors to commence their pending fire mission.”[10]

It was decided that a three mile radius around Lieutenant Colonel Hambleton was a sufficiently safe distance. In an act of selflessness Colonel Turley accepted full responsibility for the pilot’s safety and directed Lieutenant Joel Eisenstein in the COC to continue coordinating naval gunfire with the USS Buchanan.

No More Ping Pong Games

The Easter Offensive continued through the rest of April. However, the Communists were simply unable to overcome the devastating blow given to them by a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. They were finally halted just outside Quang Tri City on May 1st.. Thus the fall of South Vietnam to Communism was delayed for a full three years and more importantly, America, the anti-communist bulwark in the world, was saved from a humiliating defeat.

It would be an exaggeration to say Colonel Turley’s actions alone are what halted the Easter Offensive. There were many brave men who fought and some who gave the full measure during those fateful days. However, there is a striking difference between Colonel Turley’s actions and theirs. If they survived they could only expect awards and praise –which they richly deserved–, whereas Colonel Turley knew that he would likely receive reprimand, scorn and possibly jail time for his perceived insubordination.

It is for this reason that Colonel Turley is truly the hero of the Easter Offensive. He chose to make war against communism at a time when so many others simply preferred to play games and smile.

 

 



[1] Colonel Gerald Turley, The Easter Offensive: The Last American Advisors, Vietnam 1972 (Annapolis, Md.: US Naval Institute Press, 1995) p. 27)

[2] Comments made during a lecture Colonel Turley gave at the headquarters of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania.  Hereafter referred to as TFP lecture.

[3] Colonel Gerald Turley, p. 66)

[4]  TFP Lecture

[5] From an official report about the Easter Offensive, prepared by Colonel Turley, for the purpose of getting Colonel John Ripley’s Navy Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

[6] The details of this daring feat, for which Colonel John Ripley earned the Navy Cross, are narrated in his biography, An American Knight: The life of Colonel John Ripley USMC.

[7] Colonel Gerald Turley, p. 205

[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceal_Hambleton

[9] Dale Andrade, America‘s Last Vietnam Battle: Halting Hanoi’s 1972 Easter Offensive (University Press Of Kansas) Pg. 76

[10] Colonel Gerald Turley, Pg 203)

 

 

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Colonel Ripley with his wife Moline on the evening he received his Navy Cross during the Marine Corps Evening Parade. (Department of Defense photo)

When I read the January 9th New York Times article “Pentagon Allows Women Closer to Combat, but Not Close Enough for Some” by  Elisabeth Bumiller I could not help recall what the late Col. John Ripley had to say on the matter. His primary reason for opposing such a measure was his noble desire to protect “womanhood and femininity.” He also pointed out, in his testimony on the subject, that it was a “pathetically few who strive to gain higher command,” that speak most loudly about the matter because they, “feel that they must have served in a combat unit to achieve command, or perhaps higher rank”. This just happened to be the reason given, in the NY Times article mentioned above, for this next step towards woman serving in combat. “Serving in jobs like the infantry,” the Times article points out, “remains crucial to career advancement in the military, and critics of the current policy say that by not recognizing women’s real role in combat, women are unfairly held back.”

So now we are one step closer to our sisters, our daughters, our mothers being sent off into, what Col. Ripley so aptly described as, “the stinking filth of ground combat… If you think women have a so-to-speak right to grovel in this filth,” the late Colonel said in his testimony, “to live in it just because someone above them, senior to them, wants to be promoted, then, my God, what has happened to the American character and the classical idea, western idea, of womanhood?”

Chivalry, contrary to what many might think, is not dead. Thank God for a man like Col. John Ripley who lived by principle and did not stop being an officer and a gentleman when so many others around him did.

 

 

 

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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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az lottery

Marine Corps Body Bearers carry the coffin of Colonel John W. Ripley to his final resting place in the Naval Academy Cemetery.

My first exposure to Marine Corps Body Bearers was at the funeral of Colonel John Ripley. Below is a very interesting article about the men who have the honor to carry fallen heroes to their final resting place. The next time I saw them was at the funeral of Colonel Ripley’s wife Moline. NJF

by: Cpl. Scott Schmidt | Tuesday, June 29, 2010 10:56

WASHINGTON – It’s an iconic scene: Six men stand together halfway around the world from home and raise a flag on top of Mount Suribachi. When the men returned home, their story of valor on Iwo Jima lifted a nation to its feet in the midst of the turning point of World War II.

Now, more than 60 years later, another six Marines stand tall in the shadow of the Marine Corps War Memorial’s valor as it depicts that iconic scene.

They belong to the group of 13 Marines who carry the caskets of fellow Marines through the streets of Arlington National Cemetery and surrounding National Capital region cemeteries, (sometimes up to a mile,) as the last salute to the fallen members of the 234-year-old brotherhood.

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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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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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