- 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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Below is an article about Women in Combat with a stirring video by former Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Barrow. It is worth noting that this great man died within days of his friend, the late Colonel John Ripley. Both men testified before congress on the issue of sending our women into combat, a move which Colonel Ripley described as a “quest to neuterize all our institutions under the holy name of equality“. These great men have unfortunately been ignored. Take time to watch this stirring testimony on this issue by General Barrow. He is, like Colonel Ripley, a southern Gentlemen, a great warrior, and another example of An American Knight.
DESTROYING THE MARINE CORPS–WOMEN IN COMBAT
by Andy Weddington
There’s been rumor floating around the retired Marine community for a month or so now women will soon go through formal infantry training–officers to Infantry Officers Course and enlisted to Infantry Training Battalion. Fact or fiction? Credible nods from some senior active duty Marines suggest that’s the plan. Stunning. Is this of our commandant’s ordering or being so ordered? If true, it doesn’t matter. It’s a gargantuan mistake.
“The mission of the Marine Corps rifle squad is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver and/or repel enemy assault by fire and close combat.” For readers not familiar with the Marine Corps and fighting terminology, “close combat” includes hand-to-hand. (Note: There’s a reason women are not pitted against men in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) octagon.)
That was the mission of a Marine rifle squad long before I became a Marine. That was the mission of a Marine rifle squad taught to me at Officer Candidates School, and so it remained through three decades of service. That is the mission of a Marine rifle squad today. And the mission of a Marine rifle squad is not likely to change any time soon.
Twenty years ago there was a United States government bureaucratic undertaking (pardon the redundancy) to address the role of women in our armed forces. More directly, the agenda (of many engaged in that undertaking) was to expand the role of women in combat.
The “Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces” was a typical government operation–commissioners and information gathering panels and surveys and fact-finding visits to military installations and formal committee hearings and findings and recommendations. The effort checked every conceivable block. The Commission dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s–the paperwork was in order. It looked good. But if the truth be known, results either ignored or conveniently tailored to meet the desired end state was the modus operandi. No surprise.
But the Commission, and their work, missed the point. And the critical point they missed, probably intentionally ignored, was eloquently addressed in the thoughts of one man–a retired United States Marine–before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1991. During a 41 year career that Marine advanced from private to general. He commanded and fought, including close combat, in three wars–World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was awarded our nation’s second and third highest decorations–the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Silver Star, and others–for his leadership and heroism under combat conditions.
That infantryman, of unimpeachable credibility and authority, spoke for about 13 minutes. The succinct, sometimes emotional, and compelling sentiments of General Robert H. Barrow (1922-2008), 27th Commandant of the Marine Corps, about women in combat, delivered eight years after he retired, are as germane today as when spoken. His blunt analysis is absolutely correct. So are his sobering conclusions. Time to watch the video.
Then entertain a single question…
Will the Marine Corps be destroyed?
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)
When I read the January 9th New York Times article “Pentagon Allows Women Closer to Combat, but Not Close Enough for Some” by Elisabeth Bumiller I could not help recall what the late Col. John Ripley had to say on the matter. His primary reason for opposing such a measure was his noble desire to protect “womanhood and femininity.” He also pointed out, in his testimony on the subject, that it was a “pathetically few who strive to gain higher command,” that speak most loudly about the matter because they, “feel that they must have served in a combat unit to achieve command, or perhaps higher rank”. This just happened to be the reason given, in the NY Times article mentioned above, for this next step towards woman serving in combat. “Serving in jobs like the infantry,” the Times article points out, “remains crucial to career advancement in the military, and critics of the current policy say that by not recognizing women’s real role in combat, women are unfairly held back.”
So now we are one step closer to our sisters, our daughters, our mothers being sent off into, what Col. Ripley so aptly described as, “the stinking filth of ground combat… If you think women have a so-to-speak right to grovel in this filth,” the late Colonel said in his testimony, “to live in it just because someone above them, senior to them, wants to be promoted, then, my God, what has happened to the American character and the classical idea, western idea, of womanhood?”
Chivalry, contrary to what many might think, is not dead. Thank God for a man like Col. John Ripley who lived by principle and did not stop being an officer and a gentleman when so many others around him did.
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.
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.
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.”
Tags: An American Knight, Analagous Traditional Elites, Army Rangers, British Royal Marines, catholic soldier, Col. John Ripley, Col. Michael Wyly, Dong Ha Bridge, Heroism, Marine Corps, Military, Moline Ripley, Navy Cross, Nobility, RAdm Bill Heine, Vietnam
June 29, 2010 would have been the 71st Birthday of Colonel John Ripley. Although he is no longer with us his memory, as Mary Susan Goodykoontz says so well in this book review of An American Knight, will live on forever.
“While the world knew my brother John as a Navy Cross recipient, I will always remember him simply as my darling little boy. Being the oldest member of our family I had the joy of caring for him as if he were my own child. It was for this reason that I was overjoyed when Norman Fulkerson contacted me, after John’s death, with the idea of writing a book about his life.
“The final product, titled An American Knight, gave me the chance to see a side of John I frankly never knew. Although I was well aware of his heroism at Dong Ha, I did not know he was such a legend in the Marine Corps, because he did not tell me those things. John was very humble.
“While I thoroughly enjoyed An American Knight and found it to be an extremely accurate account of my brother’s life, it was, at the same time, a painful read since it brought back so many happy memories of someone I sorely miss. I have had, since John’s death, this feeling that he would never die. That is to say that his memory would live forever. Now I know it certainly will because of Mr. Fulkerson’s book. As Irving Berlin, the Jewish-American songwriter said: “The song is ended but the melody lingers on.”
“On behalf of my family, of which I am the last living member, I say thank you!”
Mary Susan Goodykoontz, Radford, Virginia
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
By Debbie Thurman, DAILY COURIER
Saturday, April 3, 2010
This week Christians observed the Passion of Christ, the suffering servant but also the King of kings. Were he still among us, one warrior-servant whose deeply abiding faith and military prowess helped shape him into a legend — a latter-day knight — would be solemnly worshipping. He also likely would be recalling another Easter Sunday 38 years ago at almost precisely this time of year in a quaint but war-ravaged South Vietnamese village called Dong Ha.
In 1972, Marine Capt. John Ripley was in South Vietnam for the third time as one of the last American military advisers. His first two combat tours were as a rifle company commander. He was already the stuff of legend.
Read more by clicking here.
To purchase An American Knight: The Life of Col. John Ripley click here.
Comments of Medal of Honor Recipient, General Patrick H. Brady US Army (Ret.) on Colonel John W. Ripley and the book “An American Knight.”
“I have never known anyone with enduring repetitive courage who was not also a person of faith. In combat my faith was for me a substitute for fear; it was a source of comfort, calm and courage — it allowed me to do things that for me would have otherwise been impossible. John Ripley was also a man of faith. It was clearly the source of his extraordinary physical and moral courage. He was a true hero, not a celebrity. Not only a person who performed acts of courage, rather he was a good person who performed acts of courage. Only when you combine courage with goodness do you have a true hero. His goodness crowned his courage and defined his character which marked him as an extraordinary example for those who follow the warriors path.
“It is for this reason that I highly recommend Norman Fulkerson’s book on John Ripley, An American Knight, to all who seek to understand heroism.
General Patrick H. Brady, US Army (Ret.)
Medal of Honor Recipient
by Norman Fulkerson
On November 1, 2008, Ron Darden was watching the evening news when an item, scrolling across the bottom of the screen, caught his eye. He was shocked to find out that his former company commander, Colonel John Walter Ripley, had died at his home in Annapolis, Maryland.
On that same day, I decided to write An American Knight, The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, the first biography of this great man.
* * *
Sergeant Darden admitted that he was afraid when, as a 19-year-old lance corporal, he first joined Lima Company. He drew guard duty on his first night in Vietnam and described how his fears were put to ease when he received an unexpected visit from Captain John Ripley, Lima Company’s fearless commander, who jumped into the foxhole next to him. The solicitous captain asked Darden where he was from, if he was married and how his parents were getting along without him.
During this night visit, John Ripley spoke to Ron Darden with the gentleness of a father and told him it was okay to be afraid, but that he should not let his fears dominate him. Sergeant Darden would go on to earn a Silver Star when he ran out into the middle of a firefight to save the life of a wounded Marine who lay helpless on the ground. He is a man who has seen the worst of war while serving under the best of battle field commanders.
As Darden related stories about John Ripley during a phone interview, I sensed that this Silver-Star-recipient was fighting back tears as he remembered this remarkable man and that unforgettable night so many years ago. He could not believe the lack of news coverage of this great man. His surprise quickly turned to frustration and then anger as he searched for more details about the passing of a man, who, long before his untimely death had already been revered as a “living legend.”
The news of Colonel Ripley’s death did in fact begin to hit the airwaves and his obituary eventually appeared in
The New York Times.What the Times and so many others newspaper articles recounted was the story of a man who blew up the Dong Ha bridge on Easter Sunday in 1972. This is understandable considering that Colonel Ripley almost singlehandedly halted the largest Communist offensive of the entire Vietnam War. This amounted to stopping 30,000 enemy troops and 200 tanks. He was successful in this task and would later sum up in actions in a succinct way:
“The bridge was there, the enemy was there, and I was there.”
Desiring to Tell the Whole Truth
What he did on that day defies belief and I could not fail to narrate the Dong Ha story in An American Knight. There is so much more to Colonel Ripley, however, that has been conveniently overlooked or glossed over by those either unable or unwilling to tell the whole truth. Colonel Ripley was a rare type of warrior who willingly and, his sons told me, enthusiastically addressed a number of politically incorrect issues of his day.
I saw the importance of one of the issues he addressed when I was “mugged by reality” in an airport some years ago by the sight of a young lady about to board a plane. She was a picture of femininity, in every way, except for her battle fatigues and the rucksack thrown over her shoulder. Moments later, her tearful parents said their final farewells to a daughter being sent off to do a man’s job.
It was only natural, therefore, that I drew an enormous consolation when I first read the heroic testimony of Colonel Ripley against sending women, like this one, into harm’s way. While others paid homage to the “god of equality,” he chose to defend the noble ideals of womanhood and femininity. This, and his care for children, were the things which caused me to see in Colonel Ripley a modern-day knight.
Since justice is the virtue whereby man renders to each what is due to him, I could do nothing less for this great man. This was one of the motivating factors which urged me to write his life. Mysteriously enough, I was egged on in this project as much by Colonel Ripley himself, as anyone. In a letter to a friend he said something which struck me like a voice from beyond the grave: “If a young officer or Marine ever asks, what is the meaning of Semper Fidelis, tell them my story.” After reading such a thing, I could not fail to tell this man’s story?
“I Walked with a Hero.”
There was another motivating factor which urged me on and that was my desire to console hero-seeking-Americans who yearn for a role model like Colonel Ripley who they can admire and emulate. During the researching of An American Knight, I took time to read numerous website commentaries and was inspired by the eulogies posted by average Americans.
One man, no doubt inspired by the Marines’ Hymn which speaks of Heaven being guarded by U.S. Marines said the following.
“We claim Semper Fidelis as our motto, but it was Col. Ripley’s life. His loyalty was complete, in all directions. The earth is less today without his soul, but the heavens are a safer place tonight.”
Another comment was even more impressive but demands an introduction.
Colonel Ripley was an outstanding officer who took great pride in the position he earned. This can be seen in the picture I chose for the cover of An American Knight. Yet he was a man that had a profound humility and never wanted attention drawn to himself. Colonel Ripley was not a man who tried to impress others with his Navy Cross or his legendary status. In fact he would often point out the achievements of those of lesser rank and frequently expressed his unbounded appreciation for the common Marine Corps grunts that “get the job done.”
He did this in a very refreshing way without ever adopting the “one of the guys” egalitarian attitude, so lamentably
common among many people of higher station. Colonel Ripley was, from top to bottom, a serious Marine Corps officer and was not ashamed of it. Yet he never missed the opportunity to challenge those around him to reach higher. It is for this reason that towards the end of his life he gave himself wholeheartedly to mentoring. He loved to counsel young men starting out on their military careers, especially those of the United States Naval Academy, his alma mater, which he loved with his whole heart.
All of this helps in understanding better a comment of a midshipman after Colonel Ripley’s death:
“This is the same man who sat at dinner with me and asked me, a first class midshipman, about to be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, to sign his program for the evening because he was going to read about me in the papers and all the great things I did for the Marine Corps. I walked with a hero. Semper Fidelis.”
Rest in Peace Now!
I saved the best eulogy for last. It came from a mother of four, who defined herself, even if inaccurately, as a “simple American women.” I pray that she someday know how moved I was to read her words.
“I never had the honor of meeting Col. John Ripley. In fact, before a dear friend suggested that I look him up, I had never heard his name. But I have sat here and read stories of his life and countless postings by the people that loved him and will miss him dearly. I am a simple American woman enjoying a world that Col. Ripley dedicated his life to protecting. I am humbled by the recounts of his heroism and tireless dedication to his country. I suppose I’d just like to say thank you. Thank you from the core of my being and on behalf of my four children. When the time is right, I will tell each of them of this great man, Col. John Ripley. May God bless your soul.”
I thank you also Colonel Ripley. Rest in peace now, I will them your story.
Tags: An American Knight, Annapolis Maryland, Colonel John Ripley, Communist, Dong Ha, femininity, Harrier, Lima Company, Marines Hymn, Michael Ripley, Navy Cross, Ron Darden, Second Lieutenant, semper fidelis, Silver Star, United States Naval Academy, women in combat