Hero of the Week: Col. John Ripley
“Hold and die.” Those were the orders he was given.
During the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive, it didn’t seem that far fetched an order for Captain John Ripley. He was in charge of a 600-man unit, composed mostly of South Vietnamese soldiers, at the bridge of Dong Ha. He was staring down 20,000 of the enemy, including some 200 tanks. To say it was a modern day Thermopylae is in no way a stretch. His commanders didn’t see another way to accomplish the mission.
Captain Ripley had another idea: run back and forth under heavy enemy fire with 500lbs of explosives so he could blow up the bridge. Not the greatest plan but, better than the alternative. Then he did something legendary, he executed the plan. As 20,000 of the enemy bore down on him, against all odds, Cpt. Ripley ran directly into withering enemy fire, calmly set up the charge, and blew up the damn bridge.
He accomplished the mission and he saved his Marines.
For his acts of bravery in the face of enemy fire he was awarded the Navy Cross.
He would retire a Colonel having graduated from the US Army’s Airborne and Ranger Schools, USMC Recon School, and the British Royal Marine’s Recon school, a testament that his actions on the bridge at Dong Ha weren’t some crazy fluke. He is the only United States Marine to be inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame at Ft. Benning, Georgia. If you are in Afghanistan reading this, and you’re on FOB Ripley, you are reading about the base’s namesake.
Sadly, he has left us to spend eternity with the Great Ranger in the Sky. He was 69 years old.
This moment almost came in the summer of 2002. Col. Ripley needed a liver transplant because of a tropical disease that he’d caught long ago in Southern Asia. He’d been read his last rites twice, his family steeled themselves for the end, but the man clung to life. A liver was found in Philadelphia. The Commandant of the Marine Corps sent an entire section of CH-46 helicopters to secure the PC, then he coordinated special clearance for the birds to land in Washington DC, where the transplant surgery was to be preformed. Military valor is one thing, service to the nation above and beyond the call of duty another still, but when the Commandant of the Marine Corps whips up a flight of birds for you and garners special security clearance over DC at our current threat levels, you have passed beyond what mortal man can accomplish – you are the stuff of legend. Col. Ripley was such a man.
11 November 2008.
This is the day that our nation pays homage and respect to men like Col, John Ripley. It is a day that all of you whom have or are currently serving should hold your heads just a little higher and walk even more proudly through your day.
Freedom isn’t free, and today our nation remembers the price that was paid. Some gave all, everyone who has served gave something, and our nation gets to pay homage to those who have shown such extraordinary courage and sacrifice that only the most callous and out of touch can’t help but be grateful for the protection and freedom our Veterans have provided them.
To our fellow Vets, thank you for all you’ve done. To those currently serving, keep your heads down. To Colonel Ripley, Godspeed, sir. Godspeed.