- 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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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. 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.” Before the sun set that day, over 11,000 rounds rained down on the South Vietnamese firebases and surrounding villages in the northern part of Quang Tri province; and more was to come.
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, 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.
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. 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.
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.”
“…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.
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. 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.”
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.
 Colonel Gerald Turley, The Easter Offensive: The Last American Advisors, Vietnam 1972 (Annapolis, Md.: US Naval Institute Press, 1995) p. 27)
 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.
 Colonel Gerald Turley, p. 66)
 TFP Lecture
 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.
 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.
 Colonel Gerald Turley, p. 205
 Dale Andrade, America‘s Last Vietnam Battle: Halting Hanoi’s 1972 Easter Offensive (University Press Of Kansas) Pg. 76
 Colonel Gerald Turley, Pg 203)
Marine vet, 83, fights off home invader, 19
Posted : Wednesday Sep 8, 2010 11:39:31 EDT
YARMOUTH, Mass. — Yarmouth police say an 83-year-old World War II Marine Corps veteran fought off a 19-year-old man who broke into his home and attacked him with a glass candlestick.
Police say the suspect broke into the home at about 8:30 p.m. on Monday. The homeowner fought back and yelled to his wife, who called police, prompting the suspect to flee.
He was picked up a short time later, with blood on his shirt and items allegedly stolen from the home. Alan Menchin was held on $10,000 bail after pleading not guilty to charges including assault and battery at his arraignment Tuesday.
The homeowner needed treatment for cuts and bruises. He asked not to be identified out of concern for his safety.
Lt. Steven Xiarhos said he was proud of the veteran for fighting off “a punk.”
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.
To read more Click Here.
…conversation overheard on the VHF Guard (emergency) frequency 121.5 MHz while flying from Europe to Dubai
Iranian Air Defense Site: ‘Unknown aircraft you are in Iranian airspace. Identify yourself.’
Aircraft: ‘This is a United States aircraft. I am in Iraqi airspace.’
Air Defense Site: ‘You are in Iranian airspace. If you do not depart our airspace we will launch interceptor aircraft!’
Aircraft: ‘This is a United States Marine Corps FA-18 fighter. Send ’em up, I’ll wait!’
Air Defense Site: ( …. total silence)
God bless our troops.
There is something about a Marine that makes other countries listen to reason.
by: Sgt. Mark Fayloga
SOUTHERN SHORSURAK, Afghanistan (July 12, 2010) — Cpl. Matt Garst should be dead.
Few people survive stepping on an improvised explosive device. Even fewer walk away the same day after directly absorbing the force of the blast, but Garst did just that.
A squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Garst was leading his squad on a patrol in Southern Shorsurak, Afghanistan, June 23 to establish a vehicle checkpoint in support of Operation New Dawn.
The men were four miles from Lima Company’s newly established observation post when they approached an abandoned compound close to where they needed to set up their checkpoint. It would serve well as an operating base — a place for the squad to set up communications and rotate Marines in and out of. But first, it had to be secured.
As they swept the area with a metal detector, the IED registered no warning on the device. The bomb was buried too deep and its metallic signature too weak. Two men walked over it without it detonating.”
At six feet, two inches tall and 260 pounds with all his gear on, Garst is easily the largest man in his squad by 30 or 40 pounds — just enough extra weight to trigger the IED buried deep in hard-packed soil.
Lance Cpl. Edgar Jones, a combat engineer with the squad, found a pressure plate inside the compound and hollered to Garst, asking what he should do with it. Garst turned around to answer the Marine and stepped on the bomb.
“I can just barely remember the boom,” Garst said. “I remember the start of a loud noise and then I blacked out…” When he came to, he was standing on his feet holding his weapon, turning to see the remnants of the blast and wondering why his squad had a look on their faces as if they’d seen a ghost.
Marines in Lima Company think Garst is the luckiest guy in the battalion, and while that may seem a fair assessment, it was the enemy’s shoddy work that left Garst standing. The three-liters of homemade explosive only partially detonated.
Marines who witnessed the event from inside the compound caught glimpses of Garst’s feet flailing through the air just above the other side of the building’s eight-foot walls. The explosion knocked him at least fifteen feet away where he landed on his limp head and shoulders before immediately standing back up.”
Not quite sure of what had just happened, Garst turned back toward the blast, now nothing but a column of dirt and smoke rising toward the sun.
“My first thought was, ‘ I just hit an IED,’” he said. “Then I thought, ‘Well I’m standing. That’s good.’”
Read more by clicking here.
Not in the Pentagon Closet
by: Brett Decker
Listening to the liberal media, it’s easy to think that all America’s generals and admirals want to torpedo the ban on open homosexuals serving in the military. At times, there is a revolving door on the Pentagon’s closet, with some of the brass putting fingers in the air to test which way the winds are blowing.
While politicized officers might try to curry favor with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats by assuming the liberal position in favor of ending the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, 1,164 flag and general officers have signed a petition informing President Obama that, “Our past experience as military leaders leads us to be greatly concerned about the impact of repeal [of the law] on morale, discipline, unit cohesion and overall military readiness.”
The extraordinary open letter by so many respected military leaders, which has been shepherded by the Center for Military Readiness, isn’t surprising to most Americans, who know those serving in uniform are among the most forthright in America, a few media darlings aside. However, in our morally confused age, officers who defend traditional values tend to be the ones kept in the Pentagon closet rather than those with less normal views. Despite this political pressure, most warriors espouse a very conservative ideology. One of them speaks to us from the grave.
The late Col. John W. Ripley is a Marine Corps legend for his many heroic stands in combat, in congressional hearings and in life. In “An American Knight,” first-time author Norman J. Fulkerson does a masterful job recounting not only what this great man did, but why he did it and how he became who he was. In short, with a few exceptions aside, great men aren’t born – they are formed. John Ripley benefited from the example of a strict family upbringing and the influence of an ascendant American culture that was unabashed in its encouragement of the eternal verities of God, family and country. In the Ripley household, religion wasn’t only for women and wimps, and the whole family knelt to pray the Rosary together every day.
It was this faith that would fortify the tough Marine during his toughest trials. His most celebrated feat was on Easter Sunday 1972 in Vietnam, where he singlehandedly blew up the Dong Ha bridge to halt a communist advance along the main transportation artery into South Vietnam. For more than three hours, he climbed the superstructure of the bridge, swinging from steel girders like monkey bars to place explosives and detonators under the main supports. He scaled the bridge over a dozen times, taking heavy fire the whole time, to accomplish the mission and thwart the enemy.
In the years after combat duty, Col. Ripley served in many roles, including stints working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as an instructor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and even as president of the Southern Seminary, an all-woman’s college. As the years passed, the Marine’s Marine feared that America was endangered by another leftist threat: political correctness. During the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, he again answered the call, publicly arguing against admission of girls into the Virginia Military Institute and against women in combat. It was his belief that these positions were in defense of ladies and femininity, especially by trying to protect them from abuse. “If we see women as equals on the battlefield, you can be absolutely certain that the enemy does not see them as equals,” Col. Ripley said. “The minute a woman is captured, she is no longer a POW, she is a victim and an easy prey … someone upon whom they can satisfy themselves and their desires.”
Mr. Fulkerson explains that, “While Americans appreciate the warrior spirit of someone like him, we admire much more a person who is not afraid to tell the truth.” That’s why “An American Knight” is not only an interesting book for military buffs but offers inspiring reading for anyone looking for noble examples amidst modern amorality. On the night of Oct. 28, 2008, this Marine met his maker. But while Col. Ripley is dead, his legend lives on. If you listen closely to the din of contemporary political-military debates, the voice of Ripley echoes.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times.
Tags: An American Knight, catholic militancy, catholic soldier, Center for Military Readiness, CMR, Col. Charles Waterhouse, Col. John Ripley, Don't ask Don't tell, Flag officers, Heroism, Joint Chiefs, Marine Corps, Marines, Naval Academy, political correctness, President Obama, Rosary, VMI, women in combat
Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph
By Michael Whitcraft
One of the most cited and least understood wars in American history is Vietnam. Due to these misunderstandings, it has become synonymous with the words quagmire and disaster.
Thus, opponents of current military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan decry our operations there saying that America is getting itself into “another Vietnam.” However, were US military activities in Southeast Asia really so bad after all?
The answer is yes and no: Yes, they were certainly a worldwide embarrassment as our troops left the field of battle without victory. However, judged by the performance of America’s military, the answer must be a resounding no. Sadly, politicians, not warriors, decided the outcome.
Thus, the true story of the American soldiers’ valor must be told. Such was the task of Richard Botkin in his recent 650-page tome, Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph. In it, he successfully fulfills this task by doing exactly what his title suggests: telling the story of the Vietnam War in terms of honor and triumph.
The book primarily focuses on three Marine heroes: Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley, USMC and Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Le Ba Binh. In telling their stories, Mr. Botkin seamlessly intertwines a retelling of the history of the entire Vietnam War. His work is painstakingly researched, yet highly readable.
Certain points stand out among the many details of the book. First, the immense suffering that the Vietnamese people suffered at the hands of the Communists. Mr. Botkin vividly demonstrates this with incidents of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA) intentional targeting of innocent civilians.
After the end of the war, more challenges awaited the devastated South, including persecution from their Northern captors. This included the creation of “reeducation” camps throughout the country. Despite their inconspicuous label, these camps had nothing to do with regaining lost knowledge. As Mr. Botkin points out, the installation of these camps “was nothing more than organized revenge on a massive scale.” (p. 548)
Ride the Thunder includes the story of how Lieutenant Colonel Le Ba Binh was forced to spend more than eight years in one such camp, during which time he was allowed less than two hours total visit time with his family.
Another important point Mr. Botkin highlights is the military success the American and South Vietnamese armies enjoyed throughout the war. He convincingly dispels many media-created myths that Vietnam was a lost cause.
The fact is that American forces did not lose a single battle of any consequence in the entire war, in spite of their self-defeating policy that allowed the enemy free communications along the Ho Chi Minh trail and safe havens in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam. Even the oft-touted Tet Offensive of 1968 was a very real defeat for the NVA.
Despite the operation’s enormous scope, South Vietnamese and American forces had already regrouped and began a counterattack within hours of its first salvos. They were so successful that other than continued fighting in Hue and Khe Sahn, the entire offensive was defeated within two weeks. In Hue, expelling the Communists took twenty-seven days, while the enemy eventual abandoned Khe Sahn as well.
Therefore, the North Vietnamese did not gain any ground and loss an estimated 45-50 thousand troops KIA during the offensive. Many more thousands were captured. (American deaths during the entire war are estimated at around 58 thousand.)
All-in-all, military leadership classified the operation as a tremendous victory. The only Communist victory of the campaign had been fought for America’s soul. As Mr. Botkin described it: “the Communist offensive did achieve a public relations coup with the American public well beyond what a militarily defeated [NVA] could have possibly dreamed.” (p. 146)
However, a Communist operation in March of 1972 dwarfed Tet in size, aggressiveness and overall danger to South Vietnam. Dubbed the Easter Offensive, it began with a simultaneous attack on twelve bases that spanned the entire length of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). From its very beginning, all known friendly artillery positions came under attack.
With American troops already largely withdrawn, the objective seemed obvious and frighteningly obtainable: break through the South’s weak defensive lines and drive southward to Saigon, thus winning the war and subjecting all of Vietnam to Communist domination.
Fortunately for the South, the Communist troops met unbelievable resistance that was greatly aided by the actions of three tough Marine officers who refused to give up.
The first was Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Binh, whose battalion (known as Soi Bien or “Wolves of the Sea”) held the ground defending a bridge across the Cua Viet River at the city of Dong Ha. The bridge was highly strategic because it was the only crossing in the area sturdy enough to support the more than 200 tanks the NVA had assembled on the north side of the river.
Lieutenant Colonel Binh persistently held his ground in spite of overwhelming odds. It was his training and leadership that kept the situation together in Dong Ha as his men faced the fight of their lives.
The Lieutenant Colonel’s determination is well demonstrated in a radio message he sent out to his commanders when rumors began to circulate that Dong Ha had fallen. He said:
It is rumored that Dong Ha has fallen…My orders are to hold the enemy in Dong Ha. We will fight in Dong Ha. We will die in Dong Ha. We will not leave. As long as one Marine draws a breath of life, Dong Ha will belong to us. (pp. 327-328)
While the desperation of the situation led scores of South Vietnamese troops throughout the DMZ to desert, not a man of the Soi Bien left his post.
Their efforts supported American Colonel John W. Ripley, then serving with Colonel Binh as an advisor. He would need all the help he could get as he took on a mission to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge, in an endeavor so daring that it has become part of Marine Corps legend.
The bridge’s superstructure was a hulking construction that had been made by American Seabees. It was supported by six enormous I-beams three feet tall. To destroy it, Colonel Ripley would have to hand-walk and crawl 500 pounds of TNT and Plastic Explosives one hundred feet into its under belly. All the while, he would be submitted to continual enemy fire. His difficulties were multiplied by the sleep and food deprivation he had suffered throughout the previous days.
The feat was so difficult that no one believed survival, let alone successful completion, was possible. Nevertheless, after hours of intense physical exertion, everything had been put in place, the charges were detonated and the bridge was no more. Colonel Ripley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day.
Some historians have argued that the destruction of that bridge was the single most important factor that postponed the defeat of South Vietnam until 1975.
However, there is another individual on whose shoulders the defense of South Vietnam during the Easter Offensive weighed heavily, but who has received insufficient historic recognition so far. That is why Mr. Botkin’s description of the role played by Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley is of particular value.
When the Lieutenant Colonel chose to return to Vietnam in 1971, there were only about one thousand Marines still on the ground. Since President Nixon’s policy of “Vietnamization” was fully underway, the brunt of the fighting was being born by Vietnamese soldiers. That is why Lieutenant Colonel Turley fully expected to see little if any action during this, his second tour.
His role as assistant senior Marine advisor would consist in helping senior Marine advisor Colonel Josh Dorsey and perhaps filling in for him from time to time. As such, he would live in Saigon, which, at the time, was far removed from combat. The closest he imagined he would come to actual fighting was an occasional and uneventful visit to the frontlines.
His expectations were shattered when, on a four-day visit to I Corps Tactical Zone, the Easter Offensive broke out. He happened to be at 3rd ARVN Division forward headquarters at Ai Tu when the Army officer in charge there began suffering nervous problems, abandoned his post and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Turley to take the helm.
Worse yet, communications with higher leadership in Saigon were practically nonexistent, meaning this change in command went unreported. In addition to facing the largest Communist advance of the entire war, Lieutenant Colonel Turley also had to confront hostile and mistrustful leaders, who continually second guessed his decisions and attempted to countermand many of his orders. The situation was so desperate, he was forced to take responsibility for disregarding some of the directives he received from higher-ups.
While other players in the offensive faced their predicament with the support of their leaders, expecting praise if they survived, Lieutenant Colonel Turley could only anticipate disciplinary action and perhaps court martial.
Even when he ordered Colonel Ripley to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge, he did so against the direct wishes of his commanders. However, the reality of over two hundred tanks about to cross the Cua Viet River and invade South Vietnam was too dangerous for him to accept when he had the possibility to prevent it.
In spite of having no food, virtually no sleep and a severe case of dysentery, he faced the opposition of his superiors and stood by his post, directing air, naval and ground operations that salvaged a desperate situation. He continued in this capacity for a full four days until he was ordered back to headquarters for questioning. The physical, psychological and moral stress he faced during this time can hardly be imagined.
Nevertheless, he survived and emerged as one of the greatest examples of “honor and triumph” of the entire war.
The stories of these three heroes and much more are included in Rich Botkin’s Ride the Thunder. This makes it a must-read for all military-buffs, American patriots and especially those who are interested in knowing the true history of the Vietnam War – one not tainted by politically correct historians intent on criticizing America and especially its military.
However, readers should be warned that Mr. Botkin’s book, while less offensive than many military volumes, does have its share of profanity, which he mostly limited to the contents of direct quotes from characters in the book. Similarly, there are references, though not graphic, to those activities that have unfortunately been so closely linked with soldiers throughout history.
Nevertheless, Ride the Thunder is an exciting and highly informative read. No one’s military library is complete without it.
Tags: Cambodia, catholic soldier, Col. John Ripley, Colonel Gerald Turley, Colonel Le Ba Binh, Cua Viet River, Dong Ha Bridge, Heroism, Ho Chi Minh, Honor, Khe Sahn, Laos, Marines, Navy Cross, NVA, Richard Botkin, Seabeas, Soi Bien, Tet Offensive, Vietnam, Wolves of the Sea
The report below was sent by a Company Commander of the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines serving in Afghanistan. Such a positive report is not the type of thing we commonly see in our papers here and is worth reading.
“I finally have a minute to sit down and write a letter concerning the past few weeks here in Now Zad. I wanted to make sure that I got the word out to everyone, so please send this out to friends and family that I may have missed on the distr[ibution] list. I first want to say how incredibly proud of my boys I am. These Marines have been amazing and continue to be amazing. Between them and the amazing support staff that we have in 3/4 that allows us to do quite literally whatever we want to the Taliban, this has almost been an easy operation. Here are the up sides:
1) Not a single Marine was killed or seriously wounded during this operation.
2) We have taken more ground, run off more Taliban, liberated more villages, and seized more weapons and Home Made Explosives than has ever happened in Now Zad. One of the caches of HME that we blew up was over 1100 lbs of HME (for a reference, that’s over 16 “Mine-Proof” vehicles completely destroyed) and it was the largest find in Helmand Province. Ever.
3) We air inserted two companies, behind enemy lines, while my company went straight up the gut of the enemy’s defense on the ground. The enemy was so terrified that he abandoned his stockpiles and ran away to where he thought he was safe. Some of them ran right into the arms of the British Battalion to our East, some of them we have hunted down since they ran.
More importantly, we have begun to HOLD the ground by immediately building coalition positions in strategic locations all over the valley and partnering with the local Police and Army units. Let’s not forget, the infantry is a TERRAIN based organization. We don’t have to kill people in order to do our job, only if those people don’t want us on that specific piece of dirt and wants to come get a taste.
4) We aggressively sought out and crushed a Murder and Intimidation racket that was going on in our AO. (M&I campaigns are used when the enemy has no other tactic but overwhelming fear to instill on the local population. The ‘night letters’ that were being delivered said things like: “If you accept help from Coalition Forces we will kill your children one by one…” Except that Marines got to the letter writers first. Whammy.
5) We have re-opened a once deserted town to the people and have begun to pay them to clean it up. Quick cash infusion + Heavy labor for young men + promise of more work = no young guys re-enlisting in the Taliban. One of the key components of this plan was to instantly follow up with a Civil Affairs Group that would handle local national problems that weren’t related to the Taliban (food, shelter, work, etc…)
6) We have begun Medical Programs for the locals with what supplies we have. Those supplies are limited, but they are able to cover things like burns, and kids stepping on mines (yes, we MedEvac them just like we would a Marine), and skin rashes, and even an infant with pneumonia who is just fine, now.
7) Our engineers breached a mine-field that had completely frozen other forces. Our Danish friends brought some tanks to help us out and they were able to break up one or two ambushes for us. Nothing is cooler than getting ambushed and having tanks with you to respond. Nothing.
8.) Your Marines stayed on point, in the freezing cold weather, with the rain soaking them to the bone, to hunt down the Taliban who had been abusing, killing, and stealing from the people of the Now Zad Valley.
9) We are bringing back government into Now Zad, so people have an alternative than the Taliban to settle their legal disputes, and have someone to hold accountable for a lack of medical coverage, and to go to with their grievances about farming and commerce and security. They won’t NEED us to hold them up any longer.
If all of this sounds like hubris, maybe it is. But I’m so proud of my Company and my Battalion for the planning and the execution and the follow through that they have done. Be proud of your Marines, they did good workin December. Merry Christmas to everyone. Much Love to all, let your friends know, we’re winning and it feels good.”
The Amazing story of Sergeant James “Eddie” Wright. The story below appeared on the Blackfive website.
* * * *
…On April 6, Wright was in the midst of his second tour in Iraq, this time living his childhood dream as a recon Marine. The 28-year-old was finally doing the kind of missions for which he longed. He planned to make a life in the Corps.
On April 7, all that changed.
That day, Wright and his fellow Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, now based at Camp Fallujah, were called to escort a 15-vehicle convoy of Humvees and 7-ton trucks on a 10-mile trek to a supply point, where they would hunt for enemy mortar teams.
As the company rolled toward its destination, the commander of Bravo’s 2nd Platoon, Capt. Brent Morel, sensed something was wrong. The road was bare of traffic, a clear sign of nearby danger — possibly an ambush, an IED or a mine. The Marines dismounted and swept the area, but found nothing.
Soon after, Wright and his team moved forward in the convoy’s lead Humvee and learned it wasn’t a false alarm, after all. An incredible maelstrom of fire broke out, as enemy machine-gun rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars exploded around the convoy.
Bullets were whizzing through one window out the other, Wright recalled.
“It’s a miracle nobody got shot in the face or the head.”
As the corporal opened fire with his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, a machine gunner manning a weapon in the Humvee’s gun turret above took a round in the leg and groin. He passed out with his head exposed to the hail of fire. But before Wright and his fellow Marines could get the gunner down from his exposed position, an explosion rocked the vehicle.
Wright never saw it coming, but the RPG slammed into his SAW, blowing his helmet and safety glasses off and rupturing his left eardrum.
That was the least of his injuries, he realized a moment later.
“I opened my eyes and looked at my hands and I saw they were both blown off,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘damn, both of them?’.”
The explosion also ripped Wright’s thigh wide open and broke his femur. With the thigh bone sticking out, his leg was bleeding wildly and his hands gone, Wright knew he had to get medical attention fast.
What happened after that would earn Wright the Bronze Star.
As junior Marines in the Humvee began “freaking out” about Wright’s gruesome injuries, the noncommissioned officer knew he needed to keep his cool. Wright’s team leader Sgt. Eric Kocher was also hit in the arm by a bullet, leaving the team three men down.
According to his Bronze Star citation, Wright “was the epitome of composure.”
“Understanding the severity of his own injuries, he calmly instructed others on how to remove the radio, call for support and render first aid,” the citation states. “He also pointed out enemy machine-gun emplacements to his fellow Marines assisting in the demise of 26 enemies killed in action.”
Wright instructed one of his lance corporals to put a tourniquet on his wounds.
“I had to stay calm. If I freaked out the younger Marines would freak out. The Marines without combat experience would freak out,” Wright recalled.
Kocher, unable to operate his weapon with one arm, jumped in the driver’s seat and another Marine took his place on the right to provide security as they drove out of the kill zone.
Meanwhile Wright helped direct fire at machine gun emplacements as the battered Humvee sped away.
All together, Bravo Company faced at least 40, perhaps 60, enemy insurgents, that day.
Although Wright’s Humvee made it out without fatalities, the company would lose Capt. Morel, who died after being hit in the chest by machine gun fire…
…Wright wanted to be a Marine since he first heard leathernecks calling cadence calls as a kid and he wants to stay in the Marine Corps, despite his injuries.
Wright and his therapist agree that if he works hard enough, he will be able to do almost anything required of him except pulling the trigger of a weapon.
“I think the Marine Corps will give me a fair chance. I just need to demonstrate I can do it,” he said. “If I could stay in my battalion that would be great.”
Most of all, Wright wishes he was still in Iraq helping his unit.
“I’d trade that medal for a chance to go back there.”