Heroism

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During his time as a POW Gen. Mechenbier heroically stood up to the Communist guards, in the Vietnamese camp, who tried in vein to stop the American prisoners from having a weekly prayer service. “You can have no church services,” the camp commander said. “You embarrass us in front of the Russians.”

Gen. Mechenbier’s response, according to another POW was, “It doesn’t matter what you do including killing every one of us, but as long as one man is alive we are having that church service.” He said it so simply, coolly and firmly, recounts this same POW, that the guards knew and the Americans knew that there was going to be no compromise.

Gen. Mechenbier was subsequently beaten for his resistance but did not give in. …The prayer services continued.

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…Told by Ace Vietnam Pilot Gen. Steve Ritchie

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Maj. Gen. James Livingston USMC (Ret.) is a Medal of Honor Recipient whose heroism can now be cheapened by any imposter audacious enough to wear the medals he courageously earned.

By Major General James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.)

The federal government failed us all on June 28th, and in more ways than one. Days before Americans celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s hard-fought independence, the Supreme Court of the United States declared unconstitutional the Stolen Valor Act. Overshadowed by its decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the Court’s decision was a landmark blow to a definitive feature of American culture: The prestige and honor we bestow upon sacrifices made by few while protecting the freedoms enjoyed by all.

According to the Court, Congress violated your First Amendment rights to free speech by making it a federal crime for you to knowingly issue false claims about your receipt of military awards and decorations for heroism, including America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. If, that is, you do so without the intent to defraud — as if one would falsely claim their receipt of America’s top military awards and decorations for heroism for other purposes.

While the Supreme Court effectively consents to imposing limitations to the First Amendment in the instances of slander and unfounded character assassination attempts targeting persons and organizations, according to SCOTUSblog, “The Court concluded that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional because the Government had not shown that the statute is necessary to protect the integrity of the system of military honors — the interest the Government had identified in support of the Act.”

The decision to eliminate any penalty for those persons falsely claiming receivership of these hard-earned and treasured honors is disturbing in many ways. But it brings to mind two simple questions: Can we meaningfully protect the integrity of the system of military honors without legally deterring activities that diminish the sanctity of those honors? Moreover, by scrapping such legal deterrents, by making it lawful for anyone to falsely claim participation in that system, has the Supreme Court not diminished the integrity of the system of military honors, which so clearly stems from its inclusion of a select few, for select reasons?

The great irony of this decision is glaring. It is a crime to falsely claim degrees earned from universities for personal gain and employment. It is a crime to cheat on professional examinations in college. It is a crime to provide false or misleading information on a bank or mortgage loan application. Likewise, it is a crime to lie to law enforcement officials during the course of an investigation, and pose as an unlicensed professional, such as a doctor, lawyer or police officer. It is even a crime to falsify a student education loan or a passport application.

These are all examples of fraud for personal gain. And I fail to see how falsely claiming undeserved military combat honors, especially the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, or any award for valor is anything less than the greatest of frauds. Particularly as perpetrators’ agendas are virtually always focused on attaining notoriety and some form of accommodation by claiming receipt of special acknowledgements for service to our country which are reserved by the federal government for a very special group of patriots.

Those who make such claims regarding the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart and other decorations for valor tarnish the prestige, sanctity, honor and sacrifices of those who have legitimately earned these distinctions. In so doing, they denigrate the system of military honors, public perception of that system, and chip away at the prestige our society rightly assigns to military service, and combat heroism.

I have personally served with fine young Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen who legitimately earned accolades and honors reserved for military heroes for their service to our country — many of whom never lived to benefit from their sacrifices. In my view, it is a disgusting and tragic footnote to our collective history that our highest court has determined accolades for such service are, in essence, free to acquire, without proper sanction, and may be displayed in the public domain under false pretenses by individuals who might not have even served in uniform.

It is a privilege for Americans to serve in uniform, and in particular an honor to be chosen to serve in the United States Marine Corps. But these imposters, these brazen charlatans who lay claim to these undeserved honors make it an absolute disgrace — a true dishonor — to all of us who have served in uniform. Let alone suffered the pain of battle, faced an enemy, collected the dead and wounded, and lived with the aftermath of doing a job that most cannot fathom, or would ever wish to perform.

Of course, these imposters do more than dishonor those of us who have served. They dishonor the values and integrity of our nation and its proud heritage.
Our current administration and the Supreme Court — through their continued and questionable actions — have made it abundantly clear that personal accountability, personal and national honor, individual integrity, and duty to the nation above oneself mean much less than self-gratification, the agendas of political action committees, currying favor for elected office, and claiming unearned honors for personal gain through any means.

These are neither the values, nor a legacy we should impart to future generations of Americans. If the federal government is unwilling to do what is right in this case, individual states must rectify this gross lapse in judgment. Just as states implemented their individual versions of immigration reform laws after being let down by the federal government, the states should establish laws to protect these honors which, according to federal law, are now so easily degraded and devalued by the shameful actions of a despicable few.

The implementation of laws to protect our honor, and punish those who would abrogate, who would pursue such conduct to dishonor those of us who have fought to protect their freedoms, is long overdue in many states. And there is no better time than the present to take action to address our federal government’s failures.

 

Major General James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret) is a recipient of the Medal of Honor. In addition to serving on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards, he is the CEO of Kronos Advisory. An autobiographical account of Gen Livingston’s military career, including his courageous actions at Dai Do, Vietnam that earned him the highest military decoration awarded by the United States Government, is presented in his book Noble Warrior: The Story of Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston, USMC (Ret.), Medal of Honor.

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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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Fr. Charles Joseph Watters

by:  Lawrence P. Grayson

In the early morning hours of November 9, 1967, as American artillery and aircraft pounded an 875-meter-high hill near Dak To, Vietnam, Fr. Charles Watters offered Mass at its base. Many Protestants joined the Catholics for the well-attended service. Soon, the chaplain would accompany these paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade as they moved against a North Vietnam Army (NVA) unit occupying the hill. The commanding general of the 173rd thought the objective was held by a depleted enemy force that suffered heavy casualties in recent fighting. The occupiers, however, were a fresh NVA regiment of 2,000 soldiers.

At 9:43 am, 330 men in three companies moved out. Companies C and D advanced abreast, while CompVany A was behind to protect the rear. The weather was clear and warm. The advance was slow through the thick, tangled foliage of scrub brush, bamboo and tall trees. Unknown to the Americans, the enemy had been preparing the site for several months, constructing camouflaged bunkers interconnected with trenches and tunnels and storing extensive quantities of supplies. At 10:30 am, with the first troopers a few hundred meters from the crest of the hill, a well-concealed NVA force opened fire with recoilless rifles, automatic weapons, small arms, rockets and hand grenades.

Father Watters moved to the line of contact. When a wounded trooper was standing in shock in front of the assaulting forces, Father raced forward, picked the man up and carried him to safety. Soon after, he ran through intense enemy fire to aid a fallen soldier. The chaplain moved wherever he was needed.

When the fighting began, Company A, which was to the rear, began constructing a landing zone that could be used for resupply and evacuation of the wounded. The work was slow as the company was under occasional fire. Then, at 2:30 pm, enemy troops launched a massive assault from lower on the hill, driving the company upwards toward the other American units. The paratroopers had walked into a carefully prepared ambush, with enemy units above and below them.

With their advance halted, the Americans formed a defensive perimeter, bringing in their injured. As the men pulled back, the chaplain went into “no man’s land,” between the two forces, exposing himself to friendly as well as enemy fire to recover two wounded soldiers.

Celebrating Mass during the war in Vietnam. Father Watters believed his place was always with the fighting men — in the combat zone.

The NVA were now striking from all sides in a well-coordinated attack. The paratroopers were firing intensely, but the NVA continued to come. When the American defensive zone was forced to contract, Father Watters saw several wounded men lying outside of it. Ignoring attempts to restrain him, he left the perimeter three times in the face of automatic weapons and mortar fire to carry and assist injured troopers to safety. Then he moved about, aiding the medics, distributing food and water, speaking words of encouragement, and giving last rites to the dying.

With the three companies now in a common defensive area, the several command posts and the wounded were placed in the middle. For several hours, the Americans fought off the enemy. The high expenditure of ammunition and lack of water made resupply essential, but heavy enemy fire made it difficult. Six helicopters were hit and driven away before one finally dropped needed supplies at 5:50 pm.

As the enemy assault intensified, U.S. air strikes and artillery were called in, but they had little effect because of the dense foliage. Then, just after dark, at 6:58 pm, a Marine Corps fighter-bomber released two 500-pound bombs destined for the edge of the American perimeter. One of them struck the upper part of a tree located near the center of the American position and exploded. Fragments of the bomb were showered over the area which contained the combined command group, the wounded, and the medics. It killed 42 men, including the chaplain, and wounded 45 others. This was one of the worst friendly-fire incidents of the Vietnam War.

Charles Joseph Watters was born in Jersey City, N.J., on January 17, 1927. After attending Seton Hall University, he went to Immaculate Conception Seminary, and was ordained a priest in 1953. While serving in several parishes in New Jersey, he earned a commercial pilot’s license, and then in 1962 joined the Air Force National Guard. Three years later, Father enlisted in the Army as a chaplain, successfully completed airborne training and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, nicknamed the Sky Soldiers.

In June 1966, Father Watters, now a major, began a twelve-month tour of duty in Vietnam. He believed his place was with the fighting men, and so when a unit he was attached to rotated to the rear, he would join another unit in combat. He was constantly in motion, saying Mass, tending the wounded, joking with the men and giving spiritual guidance. Fr. Charles Joseph Watters celebrating Mass in the combat zone during the Vietnam War, shortly before his death. Father Watters with his chaplain’s assistant saying Mass shortly before his death.

In February 1967, he took part in Operation Junction City, which included the only combat jump of the Vietnam War. This helped endear him to the men, who knew he would risk his life with them. During this tour of duty, he was awarded an Air Medal and a Bronze Star with a V for valor.

When his tour ended, he extended for another six months. After the friendly-fire incident in which Father Watters was killed, the Americans took Hill 875, and significantly crippled the fighting effectiveness of the North Vietnam units they fought. Fr. Charles Joseph Watters was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, and has had schools, a bridge, a Knights of Columbus council, and the Army Chaplain’s School named after him.

 

 

About the Author: Lawrence P. Grayson is a Visiting Scholar in the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He also serves as State Director for Pro-Life Activities, Knights of Columbus, Maryland.

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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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Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell visiting a wounded warrior. His upbeat spirit never fails to encourage those in most need.

Some may not take the time to read excerpts from an email (see below) that I just received from Lt. Colonel Tim Maxwell, but those that do will be inspired. Colonel Maxwell was the subject of an article I wrote some years ago, titled Heroism:

“Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, a 20-year veteran in the Marine Corps also knows what war is like. While stationed in central Iraq in October 2004, he laid down for what he hoped would be a ten minute nap. His brief respite from battle was rudely interrupted when a mortar round exploded nearby and knocked him unconscious. He would later wake up in Bethesda Naval Hospital with tunnel vision, broken bones and severe brain damage. As an officer who for years had led men in battle with a compass, he would now have to re-learn what one is.”

Since writing that piece, on this true American Hero, I have received news from friends about Colonel Maxwell’s medical condition. It is not good. However, Marines who know him personally have told me that he accepts his many illnesses with an admirable patience. The most amazing thing about this man is that, in spite of his wounds, he continues his excellent work for other wounded servicemen through Semper Max Mission.

Please keep this true American Hero in your prayers.

Hello all-

You have not heard from me in quite a while. For the last 2 months, I’ve been on vacation. Free! Yup, it’s been great. If you have never been on the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center vacation ship, you don’t know what you’re missing!

OK, it’s time for the truth.

It has been a terrible summer, but I think it’s over now. Late June my left arm, the one with the shattered elbow, was hurting… rear bad. Being that it is the arm that does work, and it was not working without extreme pain, it wasn’t very much fun. I went to the ER 3 times. For 2 weeks they (Orthopedic Doctors) had checked the fluid that is in all of our elbows for infection. Nothing…

It took 2 weeks for the Orthopedic Doctor to admit that he didn’t know what to do. Finally, he went to his boss, who immediately contacted Dr. M. She is a wrist/elbow expert. She immediately made me and inpatient at Bethesda NNMC. The next day she went in my arm and removed the steel that had been there since 2004. The infection had not gone to my elbow, as the initial doctor thought. Apparently, steel attracts infection. Go figure. She told me that when she had open my arm puss had poured out. I had surgery 2 more times over the next couple of weeks. I’m not a big surgery fan.

To fight the infection I had a pic lines inserted in my upper arm. That is run through your veins to your heart. Like an IV that lasts for 4 weeks. Good news in that every time, I say again EVERY TIME, someone tries to give me an IV, they fail. Usually it takes 3 attempts, with 3 different people. It has always been that way. No idea why, but it is. It had gotten so bad, I had an IV in my throat/neck. I was running out of areas available for an IV. So the pic line seemed good.

But, alas, it also got infected. I went back to the hospital and had it removed. Thankfully, the infection was not too bad. That’s the good news. The bad news? The medicine that I am now taking is causing quite a few problems. 2000 mg of any medicine is too much. But it was messing up my brain. I took that much for several weeks. No one knew that that was the problem I was having. My neuropsychiatrist, Dr. W., has been involved the entire time. He knows about my surgery and my medicine. So we kept modifying my medicine, not including the penicillin, trying to fix my new problem. Changes were not working. So I contacted the infection specialists and asked him if I could reduce the amount from 2000 mg to 1500 mg.

 

In spite of the severity of his injuries, Lt. Colonel Tim Maxwell is still capable of smiling as he continues to fight the good fight.

This just happened 3 days ago. So far, things are much better than they have been in some time. Having conducted my own research over the Internet, I found out that this type of penicillin I am taking can cause “confusion”. Pretty good explanation of my problem. Of course, seizures are a big concern of the doctors. Like the arthritis arguments, many doctors think I am having mini seizures. And like the arthritis, I know they are wrong.

So from June 14 to August 8, I have been miserable.

On top of it, my computer is all screwed up. I had to have a specialist come and fix it. Then, I find out that the company, *****, has subcontracted all e-mails. In the new company, whoever it is, has decided that I can only send 50 e-mails at a time. Given that I e-mail 500 wounded warriors and 1000 supporters, it’s a little tough. Still working on this, actually.

I wish I had a better story to tell everyone.

Maybe next month?

Tim

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From left to right: Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Cpl. Dakota Meyer and Navy Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton. (Photo by Brent Layton)

Heroism in ambush may yield top valor awards

By Dan Lamothe –  Staff writer for Marine Corps Times

With no air or artillery support, the Marines of Embedded Training Team 2-8 were trapped deep in a kill zone in eastern Afghanistan. Their radios worked only sporadically, and dozens of insurgents fired on them repeatedly from three sides.

“We’re surrounded!” Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson yelled into his radio in the early-morning hours of Sept. 8, 2009. “They’re moving in on us!”

At least twice, a two-man team attempted to rescue their buddies, using an armored vehicle mounted with a .50-caliber machine gun to fight their way toward them. They were forced back each time by a hail of bullets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. An enemy bullet hit the vehicle’s gun turret, piercing then-Cpl. Dakota Meyer’s elbow with shrapnel. He shook it off, refusing to tell the staff sergeant with him because he didn’t want to make the situation worse, according to U.S. Army documents outlining a military investigation of the ambush.

What he did next will live on in Marine Corps lore — and, some say, should earn him consideration for the Medal of Honor.

After helicopter pilots called on to respond said fighting was too fierce for them to land, Meyer, then 21, charged into the kill zone on foot to find his friends. Under heavy fire, he reached a trench where the pilots had spotted the Marines, by then considered missing.

He found Johnson, 31; Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 30; 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25; Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton, 22; and an Afghan soldier they were training — all dead and bloody from gunshot wounds. They were spread out in the ditch, their weapons and radios stolen.

“I checked them all for a pulse. There [sic] bodies were already stiff,” Meyer said in a sworn statement he was asked to provide military investigators. “I found SSgt Kenefick face down in the trench w/ his GPS in his hand. His face appeared as if he was screaming. He had been shot in the head.”

Rather than give up, Meyer, of Greensburg, Ky., fought to bring his buddies back home. Bleeding from his shrapnel wound and still under fire, he carried their bodies back to a Humvee with the help of Afghan troops, and escorted them to nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce, about a mile to the northeast of Ganjgal…”

To read the entire story of this heroic Kentuckian click here.

What I found most noteworthy about this story is how Cpl. Meyer refuses to read the media coverage of what he did. “The main thing that we need to get from that day,” he is quoted as saying, “is that those guys died heroes, and they are greatly missed. This isn’t about me. If anything comes out of it for me, it’s for those guys.”

This is a true sign of a hero:  a person who does not realize the grandeur of the deed he has accomplished. I happened to stumble across this article while driving through Kentucky in the Louisville Courier Journal, which carried the story. It obviously gives me no small amount of pride that a fellow Kentuckian could accomplish such a magnificent deed.

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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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