I was unfamiliar with the story of Col. John Walter Ripley, USMC before receiving an email yesterday from a good friend. On November 1, 2008, Colonel Ripley passed away at the too-young age of 69 and was buried with full honors at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. John Ripley, who served in Vietnam, was the sort of man that I grew up idolizing: brave military men whose actions spoke volumes about not only their courage but their respect for duty and honor and sacrifice.
The actions in 1972 for which he was awarded the Navy Cross (the highest decoration that you can get in the Navy/Marines below The Medal of Honor) were right out of an over-the-top Vietnam movie. He was ordered to hold a bridge, in fact the specific orders were “hold and die”, at a place called Dong Ha. He was facing a much larger NVA force and it was decided that their only option was to try to blow the huge bridge across the Cua Viet river. Ripley went back and forth, dangling under the bridge by his hands, loaded down with explosives while under enemy fire to successfully shuttle enough explosives to blow up the bridge and stop the NVA advance. At the time he had no expectation at all that he could accomplish this without getting killed and says in the video that it gave him some real clarity of mind:
“When you know you are not going to make it a wonderful thing happens. You stop being cluttered by the feeling that you’re gonna save your butt.”
Watch the short video: