“Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”
Excerpt from “An American Knight”.
It was evident at the time of his birth on June 29, 1939, that John Walter Ripley’s life would not be easy. Francis and Verna Ripley were living in Keystone, West Virginia and no sooner had they arrived home with their newborn when he had to be rushed back to the hospital because of an illness that almost took his life. Although no one remembers what the ailment was, it seemed appropriate that a man, who would endure every imaginable hardship on the battlefield, should begin his life with a struggle.
This natal fight in no way dampened his vivacious spirit, and his fight for life might have been what led his father to give him the nickname Baby Buck. Coupled with his rambunctious nature, the image of a wild horse immediately comes to mind with this fatherly pet name.
Francis Droit Ripley was described by those who knew him as possessing one of those unique personalities that are so lamentably rare in the modern world. He was rarely seen without a cigar in his mouth and then, only temporarily for Sunday Mass, which he never missed. The presence of this cigar and his gruff, straightforward way of being earned him several nicknames of his own. The one he most disliked was FDR and the one that most fit him was Bulldog. Most people just called him Bud, a name so frequently used that his own grandchildren often inquired what his real name was.
Bud Ripley was keenly aware that his ancestors had fought in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War, including some who fought on different sides of the Civil War. There was something distinctly military about him, although his own military aspirations were cut short when he, much to his father’s chagrin, was expelled from the United States Naval Academy. It was not because of poor grades. In fact, his younger brother Louis, who went on to become a renowned orthopedic surgeon, considered him to be one of the most intelligent men he knew.
Bud’s expulsion occurred because of his curious nature. As a midshipman serving in the fleet, he went to visit a volcano while his ship was docked in Hawaii. As he was returning from his excursion, he realized that he had missed the boat—both figuratively and literally—and along with it the chance to be a commissioned officer. This missed opportunity left its mark on Bud Ripley and from that point forward, he always carried himself as a military man. He was well-groomed, well spoken and, above all, disciplined.
After this disappointing affair, he followed in the footsteps of his father, Walter Starr Ripley, and pursued a career with the railroad, became a mechanical engineer and later manager for the Norfolk & Western (N&W). He was determined, however, that his sons would not make the same mistake he had and cultivated in them the virtues so important for a military career. Foremost among them were a fanatical drive never to waste an opportunity, the tenacity to never quit and diligence in one’s duty.
This same spirit of determination is what must have animated Baby Buck one day as he crawled across the living room floor. He was only eighteen months old at the time, yet he approached the family sofa with a look of resolve that
became so much a part of his personality. When he reached the sofa, he pulled himself up to a standing position and then attempted, with great effort, to climb onto the couch, but his little legs were unable to fulfill the task. Verna was moved by the scene and approached in order to help. Francis Droit stopped her cold in her tracks.
“No, don’t help him, let him do it on his own,” he said, taking the ever-present cigar from his mouth. “He will learn.” After several attempts, Baby Buck did in fact achieve his goal and was no worse for the effort. It was a valuable lesson in perseverance… Read more.