catholic militancy

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June 29, 2010 would have been the 71st Birthday of Colonel John Ripley. Although he is no longer with us his memory, as Mary Susan Goodykoontz says so well in this book review of An American Knight, will live on forever.

Mary Susan Goodykoontz at her home in Radford, Virginia with a picture of her brother John Ripley, dangling under the Dong Ha bridge to her left.

“While the world knew my brother John as a Navy Cross recipient, I will always remember him simply as my darling little boy. Being the oldest member of our family I had the joy of caring for him as if he were my own child. It was for this reason that I was overjoyed when Norman Fulkerson contacted me, after John’s death, with the idea of writing a book about his life.

“The final product, titled An American Knight, gave me the chance to see a side of John I frankly never knew. Although I was well aware of his heroism at Dong Ha, I did not know he was such a legend in the Marine Corps, because he did not tell me those things. John was very humble.

“While I thoroughly enjoyed An American Knight and found it to be an extremely accurate account of my brother’s life, it was, at the same time, a painful read since it brought back so many happy memories of someone I sorely miss. I have had, since John’s death, this feeling that he would never die. That is to say that his memory would live forever. Now I know it certainly will because of Mr. Fulkerson’s book. As Irving Berlin, the Jewish-American songwriter said: “The song is ended but the melody lingers on.”

“On behalf of my family, of which I am the last living member, I say thank you!”

Mary Susan Goodykoontz,  Radford, Virginia

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This first biography on Col. John W. Ripley contains the full House Armed Services Committee testimony he gave against allowing homosexuals in the military.

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.

Painting by Col. Charles Waterhouse of John Ripley dangling above Cua Viet River as Angry North Vietnamese soldiers fire upon him.

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.”

1993 photo of Col. John Ripley. The same year of his heroic testimony against allowing homosexuals in the Military.

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.

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A "gung ho" John Ripley as a Captain in Vietnam

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.

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To purchase An American Knight: The Life of Col. John Ripley click here.

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Written by Norman Fulkerson

It is not every day that one meets a veteran of World War II much less one who was present during the historic battle for Iwo Jima. But I knew something was different about Norbert Arnold as he approached me during a presentation about Fatima at his cousin’s home in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania.

He appreciated the chance to venerate the large pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima that day. “Looking at her mantle” he said, “brought back a lot of memories.”

There was a reason for this.

He is the son of German immigrants and was blessed to have a pious mother who gave him very valuable advice before he left for war. “Ask Our Lady,” she said, “to surround you with her mantle.”

Mr. Norbert Arnold poses beside the Fatima statue

Being a good son, Mr. Arnold did as his mother asked. As he faced the many trials of war, he often reminded Our Lady to do just that. This was made much easier by the fact that he always carried a small leather pouch which contained not only his rosary but also miniature statues of Saint Joseph and Our Lady.

Miraculous Assistance
Towards the end of the war, he and his fellow soldiers were low on everything including food and water. Mr. Arnold decided to leave the safety of his foxhole to obtain supplies for his men from the headquarters a short distance away.

Upon leaving headquarters with his supplies, an officer yelled out: “Arnold, you forgot your water.” Already weighted down, he decided to leave the water for a return trip. While walking to his foxhole, a can of pineapple fell out of his jacket. When he returned to get the water he had left behind, he tripped on the can. Instead of continuing on to headquarters which would have been the most logical thing to do, he decided to take it back to the fox hole.

A moment later, the headquarters received a direct hit from a shell which killed everyone. The explosion sent shrapnel flying in all directions. One three-inch piece went spinning through the air until it hit, and tore into Mr. Arnold’s jacket.

“If it would have hit me in the face,” he recounted, “it would have killed me.” Upon further examination he found that the shrapnel did considerable damage to his jacket but left him perfectly unscathed.

He later attributed this to Our Lady and remembered what his mother had told him.

The Breaking of a Myth
As I looked into the eyes of this 84-year-old marine, I could not help but admire him as he recalled these miraculous events with such unpretentiousness. Here was a man that truly represented the ideal soldier. He not only answered the call of duty to his country but remained a man of faith conserving that which is most important to a Catholic: a love of God and devotion to Mary Most Holy.

Men with faith such as this often go unnoticed. The current trend is to portray American soldiers as mere beasts who take delight in bringing pain and suffering to those they combat. This negative image was only enhanced with the lamentable episodes at Abu Ghraib, about which the mainstream press gave more than ample coverage. Photos of flag draped coffins and sordid stories of prisoner abuse, generously provided by the media, depict America as an “imperialistic” country only concerned with flexing her muscle in the conquest of weaker nations. This is the last place one would expect to find anything closely resembling the ideal soldier.

However, the ideal American soldier can be found wherever Americans have serviced. A few facts from our military history prove this.

“I’ll Say a Mass Beneath it”
This year marks the 60th Anniversary of the battle at Iwo Jima and there are few Americans who have not seen the famous sculpture which immortalized that battle. Everyone knows about the flag raising, but few know about the Catholic Mass celebrated immediately afterwards. This fact was related in the book, Battlefield Chaplains Catholic Priests in World War II, by Donald F. Crosby, S.J.1

He narrates how anxious marines, as they approached Mount Suribachi, quipped: “Wouldn’t it be nice to plant the flag on top!” None of them balked when Fr. Charles Suver suggested something even better. “You get it up there,” he said, “and I’ll say Mass under it.”

Days later he kept his promise. As curious Japanese popped their heads from cavernous hideouts, seasoned American soldiers, with rifles locked and loaded, united their sufferings with those of Our Lord in the unbloody renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary on the summit of Mount Suribachi.

Father Crosby relates many similar stories where soldiers, entrenched in battle, practiced their faith, requesting confession and communion. In one such incident, a group of soldiers in a foxhole were killed from a direct hit only hours after receiving sacramental absolution from the Church.

Devotion in Vietnam
Similar examples were also found in the Vietnam War. They provide a clear contrast to the fabricated image of Vietnam veterans as drug-abusing baby-killers.

Sam Gallaher was there and as a personal friend often told me stories of his adventures. He is never so eloquent as when he speaks of the consolation he received from the sacraments of the Church.

“Every six days we would have mass,” he explained. The soldiers would construct the altar themselves by stacking their ruck sacks on top of each other. “You would look forward to it because it was the time you could escape [the war]” he said. “I never attended mass, like I did when I was in Nam.”

He did his duty, stayed close to God and, in spite of his 6 feet 8 inch frame which made for an easy target, miraculously survived the war. He, like Mr. Arnold, attributed his safety to Divine Intervention.

Equally impressive are two facts about Col. John Ripley, one of the most decorated living Marines.2 He almost single-handedly stopped a North Vietnamese offensive at the village of Dong Ha. He does not fail to credit the intercession of our Lord and His Holy Mother. When he was out of strength, he turned to them. “Jesus, Mary, get me there” was his own improvised version of the rhythmic chants often used by Marines.

Diorama depicting Capt. John W. Ripley hanging under the Dong Ha Bridge over the Cua Viet River, as he placed explosives, under fire, in full view of the North Vietnamese riflemen and tanks poised to attack across the bridge. The enemy’s firing came to a stop when the bridge blew; they would not cross at Dong Ha.

While speaking to a TFP audience about this incident he was brought to tears when recalling that among the civilians in the village of Dong Ha he saved, was a school full of innocent children. This tender solicitude for the weak and defenseless was an essential characteristic of the medieval knight but often overlooked when exhibited by an American soldier such as this.

“Ranger Rosaries”
Skeptics will disregard what has been pointed out thus far as examples of “old devotions” and noble attitudes perhaps practiced long ago by a few, but now discarded in favor of a “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude often attributed to the American soldier.

Critics such as these have not heard about what Sgt. Frank Ristaino and his ten children are doing.

Realizing the consolation of the rosary in time of combat, they came up with the unique idea of the Ranger Rosary. The soldier’s rugged and often grueling life was the main consideration for the creation of these Marian military beads. The final product was a rosary made with an almost indestructible parachute cord and the necessary camouflage color for use in the field. These rosaries are now found all over Iraq and other battlefields. It is the type of rosary a soldier can hold in one hand while gripping an M-16 in the other, providing him the means to honor Mary and, at the same time, fight terrorists attacking innocent civilians.

What began in Sgt. Ristaino’s living room in the late nineties has grown a lot. With the help of schoolchildren, rosary guilds, and a variety of other Catholic organizations, over 30,000 rosaries have been produced thus far.3

One military chaplain, whose identity was concealed for security purposes, wrote back to express his appreciation:

The soldiers have been briefed on the importance of devotion to Our Lady and we rely on her protection. The battalion has already undertaken to program a trip to Lourdes as soon as we return safely to Germany.

Your rosaries have been a huge hit with everyone. Words cannot express the gratitude we feel for all of the hard work that you and your rosary making team have gone through to support our mission here in Iraq. Though the violence continues unabated, I am sure that things would have been worse had it not been for the constant intercession of Our Lady. Your efforts have helped to increase the devotion to her intercessory powers.4

Not Even Pat Tillman is Spared
Contemporary society is so racked by scandals which consistently place individual gratification above man’s obligations to God. Few would think to look towards our armed forces for examples of the contrary. Their brand of knightly honor is passed over in favor of negative news.

Even Pat Tillman’s unselfish sacrifice was briskly downplayed with the excuse that, “he would not want all the attention.” Much attention would later be given to the fact that his death was the result of friendly fire. (As if that takes away from the sacrifice he made by forgoing a hugely lucrative NFL contract.) His heroic tale is now callously presented as merely a means of the military, “to foster a patriotic response across the country.”5 Patriotism is a virtue and one that becomes much easier to practice when inspired by such examples as this.

Perhaps this was the reason for my enthusiasm when meeting Norbert Arnold. He is an elderly gentleman who has carried with a great degree of dignity something of the ideal American solider as he reaches the end of his life.

Mr. Arnold is now being treated for physical ailments that come with age and the lingering pains of war in the form of post traumatic stress syndrome. Yet he relates all this with an admirable patience and an attitude which can only be defined as supernatural. “When I say my morning prayers,” he said, “I am ashamed to include myself.” Such is the self-sacrificing attitude of a man who is still alive thanks to Our Lady.

On the 60th anniversary of the battle for Iwo Jima, I felt deeply honored to shake the hand of one who had been involved in such a noble endeavor. True soldiers such as he are an image of the medieval knight who accomplishes his duty no matter the hardships. He defends the weak and helpless and does so primarily because of his love of God. These are the qualities of all those mentioned above.

Amidst the barrage of disparaging propaganda belittling the efforts of our men of arms, I believe we should be looking at the ideal American soldier among them. Their dedication and pious devotion is a tale so often untold.

In the modern armies in our secular world, one would hardly expect to find soldiers inspired by the knightly idea and religious devotion in the United States of America.

Yet it is the part of the paradox of our fascinating society. Amid the selfish hedonism of our day, this ideal soldier is a shining example of something found “only in America.”




3. A Strong Rosary Helps Give Soldiers Strength by Wayne Laugesen – National Catholic Register – August 8-14, 2004

4. Ibid.

5. “Pat Tillman’s parents rail at Army’s ‘lies’. They say probe into ex-NFL player’s friendly fire death was a sham. Josh White, Washington Post Monday, May 23, 2005


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