by Armond Noble
Over the years I’ve mentioned many books in this column. I’ve never used that book reviewer’s cliché: “If you only read one book this year, make it this one,” but now, for the first time, I will.
“An American Knight — The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC” by Norman J. Fulkerson (ISBN 9781877905414) is far beyond just a description of the heroic acts of Col. Ripley, it goes into the personal philosophy and moral fiber of this man.
In July 2006, the Naval Academy Prep School honored him by naming its new dormitory “Ripley Hall.” Earning a Navy Cross for his actions in 1972, during his first (1967) tour in Vietnam (as a Company Commander) he received the Bronze Star (Valor), Silver Star and Purple Heart. There were many who said he should have received the Medal of Honor during each of his tours.
Ripley went through the U.S. Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools and trained with the U.S. Navy’s frogmen, and also trained with the British Royal Commandos and went through the Royal Marine Mountain and Arctic Warfare courses.
Today there is a diorama at the U.S. Naval Academy depicting Ripley’s actions on Easter Sunday 1972, at Dong Ha, and every plebe is required to read about Ripley’s gallantry.
In 1990, at the age of 51, Ripley was CO of the of the Navy Marine ROTC unit at the Virginia Military Institute. He tried to pull strings to get sent to Iraq (even offering to pay his own way), but he was turned down.
There are those who believe the reason Ripley (35 years in the USMC) didn’t reach higher rank was his outspokenness on certain hot political issues in front of Congress and elsewhere. He was not PC!
We’ll leave all that for you to enjoy reading when you get the book.
Ripley was best known for his three-hour ordeal of placing explosives on the bridge at Dong Ha. The destruction of the bridge bottled up 200 Russian tanks — one of the main factors that stopped the 1972 invasion of South Vietnam. It wasn’t until 1975, when the U.S. stopped all supplies to the South (including medical) that the North finally won.
On that bridge, Ripley was the target of small-arms fire and a tank-fired round hit just a few feet from him, but, as stated earlier, this book is much more than just his combat. It shows how he had to make a massive effort to get his grades up to be able to go to the Academy. The book touches upon his personal moral code. To say the book was inspirational would be an apt description.
Many years ago I attended a Naval Institute event in Monterey, CA. A man in civilian clothes walked in; I didn’t know who it was, but there was just something about him. I said to myself, “That is somebody!” I later learned that it was John Ripley.
History repeats and repeats and repeats. From the book “An American Knight” was this, given as a background to Vietnam, “In China a civil war broke out between the communists and the government of China under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who had been our staunch ally against the Japanese. Under the guise of unity, the United States insisted that the communists be brought into the government. When Chiang refused, George C. Marshall, initially ambassador to China, then Secretary of State, cut off all aid to him despite the fact that the communists were being amply supplied by the Russians. As a result, the communists took over all of China.”
And that’s how we ended up with the Korean War. Speaking of which, if you were in Korea, 1950-53, drop me a card or letter. It will go into a drawing (held 45 days after the first entry is received) for the four-DVD (313 minutes) series, “KOREA-The Forgotten War.”
Next month I’ll mention my experiences at Cam Lo and Chu Lai.