Colonel John W. Ripley

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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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Pat Tillman

For nearly twenty years, a crowd has gathered at Fort Benning in mid-November to protest against the activities of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly called the School of the Americas) and demand its closure.

The annual event is more than just a protest. It is a gathering of the scattered fringes of the religious, political and cultural left who use the event as a platform to push ideas that range from drug legalization to abortion or even women’s ordination. Leftist Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois leads this gathering which includes a large collection of socialists, liberation theology advocates and anarchists. It is no surprise that the 71-year-old priest automatically incurred excommunication for openly opposing Church doctrine.

For nearly twenty years, both he and his protesters have resisted the Army’s efforts to “dialogue.” They reject outright the Army’s unconditional offers to open its doors to any who wish to review the school’s operation.

Nearly twenty years of protest calls to mind another twenty-year milestone – the fall of the Berlin Wall. In light of this commemoration, we offer some considerations.

Berlin_Wall_1961-11-20

East German construction workers building the Berlin Wall, November 20th., 1961.

A Continued Danger

On the twentieth anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall, we might be tempted to think that the world’s great military dangers have passed. However, that is not the case. We still live in a world of violence and uncertainties. Our enemies are no longer concentrated behind an Iron Curtain but are scattered about the world in the form of radical groups and rogue nations all too willing to threaten the peace.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, one would hope that at least the outdated Marxist ideas that caused so much misery all over the world would be consigned to the dustbin of history. However, that is not the case. Guerrilla groups in Latin America like Colombia’s FARC still defend their outdated Marxist ideas through violence and bloodshed. There is still Stalinist North Korea, poverty-stricken Cuba and Communist China oppressing its people and trampling on human natural rights. There is Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela exporting his Bolivarian socialist revolution across Latin America – including the building of a nuclear program.

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it would be hoped that the terrors of our age might also fall. However, that is not the case. Terror or the threat of terror lives as the tactic of choice among Islamic radicals who can be found in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan or Palestine. Iran’s mullahs stand ready to develop nuclear arms. Suicide bombers strike terror into whole nations and put fear into the hearts of thousands who might become the next innocent victims.

Pacifists Do Not Keep the Peace

Now more than ever, we need the soldier to keep the peace.

We note, however, that it was not the pacifists that brought down the Berlin Wall. Theirs was a constant message of concession, “dialogue,” and defeat.

When the terrible wall came crashing down, these Marxists were nowhere to be found to condemn the massive misery that lay exposed in those communist countries. They did not renounce their adherence to this system which they fought so hard to impose upon the West.

We tend to forget that it was the soldier that helped bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall. The soldier took upon himself the thankless task of confronting evil by force of arms. It was the soldier that risked all to do his duty wherever he was called to go without hesitation or complaint. The American soldier and his counterparts all over the world stood down the Communist threat in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

His services are no less needed in our days.

 

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Colonel John W. Ripley

Thank the Heroes

Thus, we need to thank – not protest – these heroes who put their lives on the line. These heroes guarantee the peace. We live freely because they made the greatest of sacrifices – even that of life.

We remember Medal of Honor heroes like Private First Class Ross A. McGinnis who distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty when he threw himself upon a fragmentation grenade and saved four soldiers from certain serious injury or death in Iraq in December of 2006. We remember Navy Seal Michael Monsoor, who likewise unselfishly gave his life, in order to save his fellow Seals on September 29, 2006.

We can also remember heroes like the late Col. John W. Ripley whose heroism in Vietnam was legendary. These and so many more make up those legions of heroes that deserve not our scorn but our gratitude.

Where Will They Turn?

There are those who protest against the soldier. They see his role as one buttressing structures of oppression and power. They are ready to label those who still fight against Marxism as murderers and assassins. They turn a blind eye to a ruthless enemy who breaks all rules and conventions as Marxists have always done. They would deny defenseless populations the training and tools needed to defend themselves against this enemy.

In the case of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, they ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of its graduates have committed no crime save that of wanting to keep their country safe and free. They are prepared to amplify any alleged crime of a soldier to gigantic proportions while reducing to nothing the blatant abuses of Marxists in countries like Cuba, China, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

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"Who will be there to defend them?"

We ask those who protest: When the fury of the terrorists turns upon them, who will they appeal to? When their freedom is taken away with the same disregard as Colombia’s FARC guerrillas take the freedom of their innocent hostages, where will they turn? When their right to protest is met with bullets and tanks like that of Tiananmen Square, who will be there to defend them?

They will turn to the soldier who defends even those who calumniate him.

A Call to Gratitude
The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) calls upon the public to thank the heroes.

Let us thank them for standing up to the Soviet menace that lurked behind the Berlin Wall that fell twenty years ago. Let us thank those who still fight and keep our nation safe and help other nations do likewise.

Let us, of course, censor any abuses, but let us also be consistent and condemn the systemic and widespread abuses that have come from Castro’s Cuba, the FARC guerillas and other leftist movements who still uphold the outdated and iniquitous Marxist ideologies that built the infamous Berlin Wall.

As Americans, let us be proud of our heroes as they continue to fight and train others to defend their nations against those who threaten the peace.

May God protect them and their families in their daily battles around the world.

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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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ny lottery

BookIn today’s increasingly troubled society, there is a desperate need for role models, especially among the youth. Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC is an authentic American hero and a true role model, whose life is worthy of admiration and emulation.

Known for his impressive heroics during the Vietnam War, Colonel Ripley earned the Navy Cross, along with numerous other awards. His legendary career in the United States Marine Corps is well-known, but now, for the first time ever, a new book that covers his whole life — from his adventure-filled boyhood in rural Southwestern Virginia to his days at the U.S. Naval Academy, his tours of duty in Vietnam, his post retirement years and finally, the final days before his death — is soon to be released.

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In An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC, TFP author Norman Fulkerson succeeds in telling the fascinating story of this legendary Marine, whose ancestors fought in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War.

In An American Knight, Norman Fulkerson shows:

**Colonel Ripley’s deep Catholic Faith, his love for his children and his devotion to his wife, Moline.

**His many struggles, one of the last being his liver transplant, described by his surgeon as the “most dramatic” one in history.

**The ultimate warrior whose Faith, discipline and morals provided him the strength necessary to vanquish enemies in battle.

**The gallantry of a man who faced public opinion and political correctness when he opposed homosexuals in the military and women in combat.

**How he transformed youthful energy into a determination and ultimately success at the US Naval Academy.

**How he stopped a Communist tank column and 30,000 NVA dead in their tracks.

This makes An American Knight a splendid and inspiring tribute to one of America’s greatest fighting men, whose legacy will deeply mark the souls of all those who love the virtues of the medieval knight: Faith, honor, heroism and integrity.

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From the foreward by General James Livingston:

“He [Colonel Ripley] saw accepting risk as part of his job as a Marine. He expressed this while speaking to a group of young men considering a career in the Corps. “Risk comes with the job,” he told them. “If you are not comfortable with risk, you need to get into a new line of work.”
“These and many of Colonel Ripley’s other qualities are enumerated in An American Knight. Thus, I recommend it strongly. I hope my thoughts will help its readers to gain a better appreciation for this Marine who will doubtlessly be remembered as one of the greatest men ever to honor the Corps.”

General James Livingston General James Livingston

Medal of Honor Recipient


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Here’s what they’re saying about An American Knight:

“I knew Colonel John W. Ripley like a brother for 42 plus years, but the facts are that I learned still more about my Marine buddy from Norman Fulkerson’s book… Norman goes into family and early life details that started this Marine on his most successful Marine career as well as John’s perception of the obligation and performance of his duties in uniform. This is a “must read” for all desiring to be a leader, especially those desiring to lead Marines.”

 

Colonel Wesley L. Fox Colonel Wesley Lee Fox, USMC (Ret.)

Medal of Honor Recipient

Author of Marine Rifleman: Forty-three Years in the Corps and Courage and Fear

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“In his new book An American Knight, Norman Fulkerson has vividly captured the extraordinary active journey in life of Colonel John Ripley. In this first ever biography of a truly legendary Marine, the reader will see a man of many images; a gentle person who was comfortable with people of all stations of life, a caring father, a faithful husband, and a Marine capable of doing the seemingly impossible when I ordered him to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge.

“Because of his compelling and uncommon level of service to this great nation, Colonel John Ripley truly deserves to be held up as a role model for all to follow. Norman Fulkerson’s book will help to insure this.”

Col Gerald TurleyColonel Gerald Turley, USMC (Ret.)

Author of The Easter Offensive

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“An American Knight by Norman Fulkerson is an outstanding tribute to one of the finest men to ever wear a uniform of the United States of America.”

Paul Galanti HomeCommander Paul Galanti, USN (Ret.)

POW for seven years


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To pre-order your copy of An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC, by Norman Fulkerson, visit www.americanknight.org or call 1-888-317-5571.

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