Skip to comments.Legendary Marine Col. John W. Ripley passes on
Posted on 11/02/2008 1:15:06 PM PST by paterfamilias
COL. JOHN W. RIPLEY, U.S. MARINE CORPS (ret.), recipient of the Navy Cross and for years one of my personal heroes, has passed away.
Ripley, 69, was awarded the Navy Cross the nations second-highest award for valor in combat for single-handedly blowing up the Dong Ha Bridge in Vietnam, thus blunting the North Vietnamese Army's Easter Offensive on April 2, 1972.
The enemy was attacking in great strength huge numbers of infantry, tanks, artillery and Ripley's little force was ordered to "hold and die."
Dying would be easy. But the only way to hold was to blow the bridge spanning the Dong Ha River. And, as Ripley said, he was "the Marine there to do it."
Then a 33-year-old captain, Ripley accomplished his task by dangling from the bridge's I-beams, climbing along the length of the bridge hand-over-hand, his body weighted down with explosives, the enemy shooting at him, desperately trying to kill the lone Marine hanging beneath the bridge.
In a June 2008 interview for Marine Corps Times, Ripley said I had to swing like a trapeze artist in a circus and leap over the other I-beam. ... I would work myself into the steel. I used my teeth to crimp the detonator and thus pinch it into place on the fuse. I crimped it with my teeth while the detonator was halfway down my throat.
Ripley set the charges and moved back to the friendly side of the river, all the while under heavy fire.
When the timed-fuses detonated, Ripley running for his life on the road leading away from the bridge was literally blown through the air by the massive shockwave he had engineered. The next thing he remembered, he was lying on his back as huge pieces of the bridge were hurtling and cartwheeling across the sky above him.
In an interview for Americans at War (U.S. Naval Institute), Ripley said, "The idea that I would be able to even finish the job before the enemy got me was ludicrous. When you know you're not gonna make it, a wonderful thing happens: You stop being cluttered by the feeling that you're going to save your butt."
A Virginia native, Ripley served in the Marine Corps for 35 years: He commanded three Marine infantry platoons (one rifle, one weapons, one reconnaissance), three rifle companies, a British Royal Marine Commando company (which operated alongside Gurkha infantry in Malaya), a U.S. Marine rifle battalion and a Marine infantry regiment. He also held a variety of other posts from professor to university president. He directed the Marine Corps' History and Museums Division. He testified before Congress on the dynamics and rigors of combat. And a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan was named for him.
In addition to being one of the Corps greatest heroes and a legend among midshipmen at Annapolis (his alma mater), this year Ripley became the first Marine inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
Incidentally, a signed copy of Col. Charles H. Waterhouse's painting depicting Ripley's exploits at the Dong Ha Bridge hangs in my office as a reminder that as we read in Philippians "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." And I will forever cherish Ripley's comments about my own work (here).
Considering the lives saved and the superhuman feat performed under intense enemy fire at Dong Ha, I believe Col. Ripley's Navy Cross should have been and should be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Visit W. Thomas Smith Jr. online at uswriter.com.
RIPLEY DIORAMA in MEMOIRAL HALL, USNA
He is the second great Marine to be called to “Heaven’s Scene”. We also lost General Robert H. Barrow.
RIP Marine Colonel John W. Ripley
Godspeed and Thank You for your inspirational and invaluable service.
That took my breath away. Thank you for posting the link.
There are folks who have received the MoH for less.
Col. Ripley is my wife’s cousin and while I don’t profess to know the whole story behind why the MOH was not granted I believe part of the reason may be although the order was given to blow up the bridge it was an “unofficial” order and Command did not want to make it an “official” one for some reason.
I know many have been working on trying to upgrade it to a MOH because he truly was an American hero.
He was also a very humble and inspiring man and my son is now in his senior year at Delaware Miltary Academy, the only full time Navy JROTC program in the country, because of the inspiration he provided. He is now pursuing a ROTC scholarship and has a career goal of becoming a Green Beret because of Col. Ripley’s life and service.
Congratulations to your son. Col Ripley has been an inspiration to scores of young men. You were lucky to have had him in your family. Something to be really proud of.
Best of luck to your son.
Hollywood couldn't come up with a story of such courage and honor.
Rest In Peace Col. Ripley.
As a young Marine in Dong Ha in 1967 I had a duty to attempt to help the Vietnamese learn how to protect their bridge. Although I left not optmistic, apparently all was well until Col. Ripley blew it up that easter Morning in 1972. When i found the book, read the book -I searched until I located Col. Ripley - He called me one day while I was at work - and what a thrill he agreed to allow me to visit him in Annapolis with my family just before Christmas in 2006. Again what a thrill- his home office was like a museum his personal tour of Annapolis was great, and all the while such a gentleman - such a Marine - it make me proud to have met Col Ripley, and remember the way he treated an old E-4 Cpl. ex-Marine. His framed , signed picture by Col. Waterhouse also hangs in my office , a constant reminder of what the marine Corps stands for. Thank you Col. Ripley. James E. Mehl - Irmo S.C.
It was Colonel Ripley who recommended me for duty station at 8 & I Marine Barracks, Washington D.C. to drive VIPs.
May God bless Colonel John W. Ripley- a true legend and hero and Happy Birthday - United States Marine Corps. The Few the Proud the Marines... I was privileged to serve with the finest fighting force in the world...
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