Marine Heroes #2 - John "Rip" Walter Ripley
Hometown: Radford, VA
A normal Easter morning would have brought to mind chocolate rabbits, eggs, laughing children with baskets of candy, and a fancy service at the local church. The morning fog wouldn't include the ratatattat of machine gun fire or acrid smoke settling on hot Vietnamese jungle air most Easter mornings. John "Rip" Ripley had been hanging beneath a bridge in Dong Ha for nearly three hours under heavy fire, fondly remembering the Easters of his chldhood as sweat and dirt washed over him and the sounds of gunfire refused to cease. It was an exceptional, Marines kind of easter morning.
Easter 1972. Rip had a satchel full of explosive charges ready to place at key points on the bridge. These were no painted eggs for children to find in the yard and the satchel wasn't likely to be mistaken for an Easter basket . The bridge had to be blown- it was a critical artery for the North Vietnamese in their push south against American interests in Saigon. Rip knew that his success could buy the soldiers in the south precious time to train and entrench against the onslought- time South Vietnam desperately needed.
Ripley's Raiders had prepared. They were needed for actions like this. The North Vietnamese had launched an Easter offensive and this bridge was the key.
Rip gritted his teeth as the continual buzzing of angry, lead bees surrounded him. His arms became jelly as he swung his way around the underbelly of the bridge. Sweat poured down his face and stung his eyes. He carefully placed charge after charge, connecting them carefully for proper detonation. After three hours of pain, heat, and hell he scrambled away from the bridge and hit the detonator.
In a kaleidoscope of light, shrapnel, and shredded metal one of the enemy's supply arteries was severed. It's at this point any comparisons to Easter eggs cease- the fireworks show in Dong Ha on Easter 72' belongs in an Independence Day celebration. It was a good day to be a Marine.
All of that work and planning worked. Rip executed a marvelous, dangerous plan boldly. Every second was a small eternity in which death seemed certain, but somehow Rip succeeded. No one knows if it was luck, the grace of God, or good old Marine grit that let Rip succeed on Easter morning, 72'. The extra years bought for the south and the lives saved by the delayed advance prove John Walter Ripley a true US Marine hero.
The story of Ripley's Raiders and the bridge incident would go on to become required reading at the US Naval Academy. He would go on to serve a full military career with the Marines and later in life acted as president and chancellor of what is now Southern Virginia University. During later tours he earned the "Quad Body"- passing the world's four toughest military training programs: the Army Rangers, Marine reconnaissance, Army Airborne and Britain's Royal Marines. He is also distinguished as being the only Marine officer to be inducted into the US Army Ranger Hall of Fame. OORAH!
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