05 November 2008

RIP: Col John Ripley, USMC

John Walter Ripley
29 Jun 1939 - 28 Oct 2008

ZUI this article from the New York Times:
John W. Ripley, a highly decorated former colonel who entered Marine Corps lore when he single-handedly blunted a major North Vietnamese offensive during the Vietnam War by blowing up a strategically placed bridge, died Oct. 28 at his home in Annapolis, Md. He was 69.

The cause has not been determined, his son Stephen said.

Colonel Ripley, who at the time was a captain and a military adviser to a South Vietnamese Marine unit, blew up the southern end of the Dong Ha Bridge over the Cua Viet River on Easter Sunday, April 2, 1972. On the north side of the bridge, which was several miles south of the demilitarized zone, some 20,000 North Vietnamese troops and 200 tanks were poised to sweep into Quang Tri Province, which was sparsely defended.


The destruction of the bridge created a bottleneck for the North Vietnamese, allowing American bombers to blunt what became known as the Easter offensive.

Captain Ripley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions at the bridge. He served two tours in Vietnam and remained on active duty until 1992, eventually rising to colonel. Among other decorations, he received the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

John Walter Ripley was born on June 29, 1939, and grew up in Radford, Va., the son of Bud and Verna Holt Ripley. He enlisted in the Marines out of high school in 1956, and a year later received approval from the secretary of the Navy to attend a preparatory school leading to his appointment to the Naval Academy, from which he graduated in 1962.

Besides his son Stephen, Colonel Ripley is survived by his wife of 44 years, the former Moline Blaylock; a sister, Susan Goodykoontz; two other sons, Thomas and John; a daughter, Mary Ripley; and eight grandchildren.

ZUI also this post from the Washington Post:
John W. Ripley, 69, a highly decorated Marine Corps officer and demolitions expert during the Vietnam War whose destruction of a strategic bridge was credited with helping repel a Communist-led armored advance at Easter time in 1972, died Oct. 28 at his home in Annapolis. He had undergone liver transplants in recent years.

Col. Ripley -- then a captain -- participated in dozens of major combat operations during two tours of duty in Vietnam. His quiet daring not only led to two of the highest awards for valor -- the Navy Cross and the Silver Star -- but also induction this year into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Ga. He was the first Marine to earn that distinction.


Amid an onslaught of enemy shelling, Col. Ripley and about 700 South Vietnamese marines were asked to hold a pivotal crossing point near the DMZ -- a bridge that spanned the Cua Viet River at the village of Dong Ha. Col. Ripley later recalled orders to "hold or die."

According to his citation for the Navy Cross -- the service's highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor -- Col. Ripley on April 2, 1972, used 500 pounds of dynamite and C4 plastic explosives to take down the bridge.

He and a U.S. Army colleague were chiefly responsible for rigging the bridge with explosives -- with Col. Ripley hand-walking along the beams while his body dangled 50 feet above the swift current. The bridge was more than 500 feet long, and the work of rigging it required about three hours of intense work.

"I had to swing like a trapeze artist in a circus and leap over the other I-beam," Col. Ripley told the Marine Corps Times in June. "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."

Col. Ripley helped provide the first success against the North's incursion and delayed the advance of more than 200 enemy armored vehicles, including tanks. His actions gave the South Vietnamese marines further time to regroup along another defensive line. They eventually stopped the Communist invasion in Quang Tri province.

More can be learned from this article from WorldNetDaily, and from Walter Grider Miller's book, The Bridge at Dong Ha (see here and here).

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