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Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell visiting a wounded warrior. His upbeat spirit never fails to encourage those in most need.

Some may not take the time to read excerpts from an email (see below) that I just received from Lt. Colonel Tim Maxwell, but those that do will be inspired. Colonel Maxwell was the subject of an article I wrote some years ago, titled Heroism:

“Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, a 20-year veteran in the Marine Corps also knows what war is like. While stationed in central Iraq in October 2004, he laid down for what he hoped would be a ten minute nap. His brief respite from battle was rudely interrupted when a mortar round exploded nearby and knocked him unconscious. He would later wake up in Bethesda Naval Hospital with tunnel vision, broken bones and severe brain damage. As an officer who for years had led men in battle with a compass, he would now have to re-learn what one is.”

Since writing that piece, on this true American Hero, I have received news from friends about Colonel Maxwell’s medical condition. It is not good. However, Marines who know him personally have told me that he accepts his many illnesses with an admirable patience. The most amazing thing about this man is that, in spite of his wounds, he continues his excellent work for other wounded servicemen through Semper Max Mission.

Please keep this true American Hero in your prayers.

Hello all-

You have not heard from me in quite a while. For the last 2 months, I’ve been on vacation. Free! Yup, it’s been great. If you have never been on the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center vacation ship, you don’t know what you’re missing!

OK, it’s time for the truth.

It has been a terrible summer, but I think it’s over now. Late June my left arm, the one with the shattered elbow, was hurting… rear bad. Being that it is the arm that does work, and it was not working without extreme pain, it wasn’t very much fun. I went to the ER 3 times. For 2 weeks they (Orthopedic Doctors) had checked the fluid that is in all of our elbows for infection. Nothing…

It took 2 weeks for the Orthopedic Doctor to admit that he didn’t know what to do. Finally, he went to his boss, who immediately contacted Dr. M. She is a wrist/elbow expert. She immediately made me and inpatient at Bethesda NNMC. The next day she went in my arm and removed the steel that had been there since 2004. The infection had not gone to my elbow, as the initial doctor thought. Apparently, steel attracts infection. Go figure. She told me that when she had open my arm puss had poured out. I had surgery 2 more times over the next couple of weeks. I’m not a big surgery fan.

To fight the infection I had a pic lines inserted in my upper arm. That is run through your veins to your heart. Like an IV that lasts for 4 weeks. Good news in that every time, I say again EVERY TIME, someone tries to give me an IV, they fail. Usually it takes 3 attempts, with 3 different people. It has always been that way. No idea why, but it is. It had gotten so bad, I had an IV in my throat/neck. I was running out of areas available for an IV. So the pic line seemed good.

But, alas, it also got infected. I went back to the hospital and had it removed. Thankfully, the infection was not too bad. That’s the good news. The bad news? The medicine that I am now taking is causing quite a few problems. 2000 mg of any medicine is too much. But it was messing up my brain. I took that much for several weeks. No one knew that that was the problem I was having. My neuropsychiatrist, Dr. W., has been involved the entire time. He knows about my surgery and my medicine. So we kept modifying my medicine, not including the penicillin, trying to fix my new problem. Changes were not working. So I contacted the infection specialists and asked him if I could reduce the amount from 2000 mg to 1500 mg.

In spite of the severity of his injuries, Lt. Colonel Tim Maxwell is still capable of smiling as he continues to fight the good fight.

This just happened 3 days ago. So far, things are much better than they have been in some time. Having conducted my own research over the Internet, I found out that this type of penicillin I am taking can cause “confusion”. Pretty good explanation of my problem. Of course, seizures are a big concern of the doctors. Like the arthritis arguments, many doctors think I am having mini seizures. And like the arthritis, I know they are wrong.

So from June 14 to August 8, I have been miserable.

On top of it, my computer is all screwed up. I had to have a specialist come and fix it. Then, I find out that the company, *****, has subcontracted all e-mails. In the new company, whoever it is, has decided that I can only send 50 e-mails at a time. Given that I e-mail 500 wounded warriors and 1000 supporters, it’s a little tough. Still working on this, actually.

I wish I had a better story to tell everyone.

Maybe next month?

Tim

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From left to right: Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, Cpl. Dakota Meyer and Navy Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton. (Photo by Brent Layton)

Heroism in ambush may yield top valor awards

By Dan Lamothe –  Staff writer for Marine Corps Times

With no air or artillery support, the Marines of Embedded Training Team 2-8 were trapped deep in a kill zone in eastern Afghanistan. Their radios worked only sporadically, and dozens of insurgents fired on them repeatedly from three sides.

“We’re surrounded!” Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson yelled into his radio in the early-morning hours of Sept. 8, 2009. “They’re moving in on us!”

At least twice, a two-man team attempted to rescue their buddies, using an armored vehicle mounted with a .50-caliber machine gun to fight their way toward them. They were forced back each time by a hail of bullets, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. An enemy bullet hit the vehicle’s gun turret, piercing then-Cpl. Dakota Meyer’s elbow with shrapnel. He shook it off, refusing to tell the staff sergeant with him because he didn’t want to make the situation worse, according to U.S. Army documents outlining a military investigation of the ambush.

What he did next will live on in Marine Corps lore — and, some say, should earn him consideration for the Medal of Honor.

After helicopter pilots called on to respond said fighting was too fierce for them to land, Meyer, then 21, charged into the kill zone on foot to find his friends. Under heavy fire, he reached a trench where the pilots had spotted the Marines, by then considered missing.

He found Johnson, 31; Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, 30; 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25; Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton, 22; and an Afghan soldier they were training — all dead and bloody from gunshot wounds. They were spread out in the ditch, their weapons and radios stolen.

“I checked them all for a pulse. There [sic] bodies were already stiff,” Meyer said in a sworn statement he was asked to provide military investigators. “I found SSgt Kenefick face down in the trench w/ his GPS in his hand. His face appeared as if he was screaming. He had been shot in the head.”

Rather than give up, Meyer, of Greensburg, Ky., fought to bring his buddies back home. Bleeding from his shrapnel wound and still under fire, he carried their bodies back to a Humvee with the help of Afghan troops, and escorted them to nearby Forward Operating Base Joyce, about a mile to the northeast of Ganjgal…”

To read the entire story of this heroic Kentuckian click here.

What I found most noteworthy about this story is how Cpl. Meyer refuses to read the media coverage of what he did. “The main thing that we need to get from that day,” he is quoted as saying, “is that those guys died heroes, and they are greatly missed. This isn’t about me. If anything comes out of it for me, it’s for those guys.”

This is a true sign of a hero:  a person who does not realize the grandeur of the deed he has accomplished. I happened to stumble across this article while driving through Kentucky in the Louisville Courier Journal, which carried the story. It obviously gives me no small amount of pride that a fellow Kentuckian could accomplish such a magnificent deed.

Glenn Hockton wearing the rosary which helped save his life in Afghanistan

but I could not pass this story up, since it is along the same lines as the last post about the Catholic Marine.There are those who might consider such religious practices as something incompatible with heroism and the military life. However, true men, see the value of prayer, even AND MOST ESPECIALLY FOR WARRIORS.

Colonel John W. Ripley, to whom this blog is dedicated, screamed “Jesus, Mary, get me there,” when he saw his strength fading under the Dong Ha bridge. He did so because he saw the value of calling upon God (for Whom it is child’s play to create universes) in his hour of need. Colonel Ripley received the Navy Cross for his heroic efforts but readily admitted it would not have been possible without Divine Assistance and was not ashamed to say so in public.

This story is about a British Soldier named Glenn Hockton, who likewise attributes his survival, after two near death experiences in war, to the fact that he carries the rosary. On one occasion he was shot in the chest and his parents still have the bullet which lodged in his body armor. More recently his mother described how he felt like he had been slapped on the back. When his rosary fell to the ground, he reached down to pick it up, only to realize he was standing on a land mine. The ironic thing about this story is that Glenn’s grandfather, who fought in WWII, also attributed the rosary to saving his life, when he miraculously survived an explosion that killed six members of his platoon.  If you have not done so already, read the rest of this story by clicking here.

Similar stories have been documented in the articles No Greater Love and The Ideal Soldier.

Lance Cpl. Daniel Hickey standing tall with his newly pinned Silver Star. (Photo by Cpl. Andrew S. Avitt)

July 26, 2010

Marine Corps News|by Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Thorburn

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.  — In the chaos and danger of battle, Marines are trained to look out for each other, take control and bring chaos to their enemy.

Lance Cpl. Daniel Hickey, a machine gunner with 1st platoon, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, did all these things and helped save lives in Afghanistan in 2008. For his actions, he was awarded a Silver Star during a ceremony at Lance Cpl. Torrey Gray Field, July 16. Hickey demonstrated great heroism during combat when his patrol came under attack by medium machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades during an ambush.

“We were doing a routine patrol in an area not normally patrolled,” said now Cpl. Hickey, a team leader with 2nd Bn., 7th Marines. “We started taking contact from our right flank. After we started taking contact, my vehicle commander told my driver to stop.”

Hickey said, the commander dismounted the vehicle and fired on the enemy. In a fierce exchange, the vehicle commander was struck in the upper right thigh and went down. Hickey exited the vehicle and pulled the commander into the cab while returning fire with his squad automatic weapon… To read more click here.

Cpl. Matt Garst absorbed the direct blast of an improvised explosive device and lived to tell about it. He continued his mission virtually unfazed.

by: Sgt. Mark Fayloga

SOUTHERN SHORSURAK, Afghanistan (July 12, 2010) — Cpl. Matt Garst should be dead.

Few people survive stepping on an improvised explosive device. Even fewer walk away the same day after directly absorbing the force of the blast, but Garst did just that.

A squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Garst was leading his squad on a patrol in Southern Shorsurak, Afghanistan, June 23 to establish a vehicle checkpoint in support of Operation New Dawn.

The men were four miles from Lima Company’s newly established observation post when they approached an abandoned compound close to where they needed to set up their checkpoint. It would serve well as an operating base — a place for the squad to set up communications and rotate Marines in and out of. But first, it had to be secured.

As they swept the area with a metal detector, the IED registered no warning on the device. The bomb was buried too deep and its metallic signature too weak. Two men walked over it without it detonating.”

At six feet, two inches tall and 260 pounds with all his gear on, Garst is easily the largest man in his squad by 30 or 40 pounds — just enough extra weight to trigger the IED buried deep in hard-packed soil.

Lance Cpl. Edgar Jones, a combat engineer with the squad, found a pressure plate inside the compound and hollered to Garst, asking what he should do with it. Garst turned around to answer the Marine and stepped on the bomb.

“I can just barely remember the boom,” Garst said. “I remember the start of a loud noise and then I blacked out…” When he came to, he was standing on his feet holding his weapon, turning to see the remnants of the blast and wondering why his squad had a look on their faces as if they’d seen a ghost.

This Cougar was hit in Al Anbar, Iraq by a directed charge IED approximately 300-500 lbs in size. All crew members survived the blast and went out the next day.

Marines in Lima Company think Garst is the luckiest guy in the battalion, and while that may seem a fair assessment, it was the enemy’s shoddy work that left Garst standing. The three-liters of homemade explosive only partially detonated.

Marines who witnessed the event from inside the compound caught glimpses of Garst’s feet flailing through the air just above the other side of the building’s eight-foot walls. The explosion knocked him at least fifteen feet away where he landed on his limp head and shoulders before immediately standing back up.”

Not quite sure of what had just happened, Garst turned back toward the blast, now nothing but a column of dirt and smoke rising toward the sun.

“My first thought was, ‘ I just hit an IED,’” he said. “Then I thought, ‘Well I’m standing. That’s good.’”

Read more by clicking here.

SSG Salvatore Giunta

by Jim Hanson

“SSG Sal Giunta, a paratrooper w/ the 173rd Airborne, is likely to be the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War. He earned this by charging a group of Taliban who were trying to make off with a wounded comrade in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. His actions broke the Taliban’s attack and allowed him to regain control of SGT Josh Brennan. He also saved the lives of the many other members of his unit who had been caught in a near ambush by the Taliban.  Giunta didn’t hesitate one second before advancing on his own to ensure the enemy would never take one of ours, but sadly Josh Brennan was too badly wounded too survive. His cousin PVT Joe Brennan recently graduated airborne school and has joined the same unit proudly carrying on Josh’s memory.

…Giunta was a Specialist when the action occurred and his squad was hit with a well-planned ambush at extremely close range. He was the trail team leader and Josh Brennan was the lead. When the fighting started Brennan was severely wounded, their squad leader was knocked to the ground, their medic was killed and several others were wounded. Giunta immediately began maneuvering toward the enemy throwing grenades and eventually charging them when he saw two of them hauling Josh away. He emptied a magazine killing one and wounding the other and grabbed Brennan telling Josh to stay with him so that he would get a chance to tell heroic stories. They did get Brennan on a medevac chopper, but unfortunately his wounds were too severe and he didn’t survive. But Giunta’s actions stopped the Taliban from taking him and by running headlong at the enemy he disrupted the ambush. SSG Giunta’s story can be read in Junger’s book “War” starting on page 115.

It has been far too long since we have awarded the Medal of Honor to someone who survived, and SSG Giunta is a wonderful addition to the ranks of those who have earned our country’s highest honor. There are a number of others under consideration for this decoration and hopefully this is a sign that more of these brave warriors will be recognized. We have heard this was approved by the White House and they are only waiting to set a date for the ceremony.

We salute SSG Giunta and all who serve or have served our country….”

This first biography on Col. John W. Ripley contains the full House Armed Services Committee testimony he gave against allowing homosexuals in the military.

Not in the Pentagon Closet

by: Brett Decker

Listening to the liberal media, it’s easy to think that all America’s generals and admirals want to torpedo the ban on open homosexuals serving in the military. At times, there is a revolving door on the Pentagon’s closet, with some of the brass putting fingers in the air to test which way the winds are blowing.

While politicized officers might try to curry favor with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats by assuming the liberal position in favor of ending the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, 1,164 flag and general officers have signed a petition informing President Obama that, “Our past experience as military leaders leads us to be greatly concerned about the impact of repeal [of the law] on morale, discipline, unit cohesion and overall military readiness.”

The extraordinary open letter by so many respected military leaders, which has been shepherded by the Center for Military Readiness, isn’t surprising to most Americans, who know those serving in uniform are among the most forthright in America, a few media darlings aside. However, in our morally confused age, officers who defend traditional values tend to be the ones kept in the Pentagon closet rather than those with less normal views. Despite this political pressure, most warriors espouse a very conservative ideology. One of them speaks to us from the grave.

The late Col. John W. Ripley is a Marine Corps legend for his many heroic stands in combat, in congressional hearings and in life. In “An American Knight,” first-time author Norman J. Fulkerson does a masterful job recounting not only what this great man did, but why he did it and how he became who he was. In short, with a few exceptions aside, great men aren’t born – they are formed. John Ripley benefited from the example of a strict family upbringing and the influence of an ascendant American culture that was unabashed in its encouragement of the eternal verities of God, family and country. In the Ripley household, religion wasn’t only for women and wimps, and the whole family knelt to pray the Rosary together every day.

Painting by Col. Charles Waterhouse of John Ripley dangling above Cua Viet River as Angry North Vietnamese soldiers fire upon him.

It was this faith that would fortify the tough Marine during his toughest trials. His most celebrated feat was on Easter Sunday 1972 in Vietnam, where he singlehandedly blew up the Dong Ha bridge to halt a communist advance along the main transportation artery into South Vietnam. For more than three hours, he climbed the superstructure of the bridge, swinging from steel girders like monkey bars to place explosives and detonators under the main supports. He scaled the bridge over a dozen times, taking heavy fire the whole time, to accomplish the mission and thwart the enemy.

In the years after combat duty, Col. Ripley served in many roles, including stints working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as an instructor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and even as president of the Southern Seminary, an all-woman’s college. As the years passed, the Marine’s Marine feared that America was endangered by another leftist threat: political correctness. During the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, he again answered the call, publicly arguing against admission of girls into the Virginia Military Institute and against women in combat. It was his belief that these positions were in defense of ladies and femininity, especially by trying to protect them from abuse. “If we see women as equals on the battlefield, you can be absolutely certain that the enemy does not see them as equals,” Col. Ripley said. “The minute a woman is captured, she is no longer a POW, she is a victim and an easy prey … someone upon whom they can satisfy themselves and their desires.”

1993 photo of Col. John Ripley. The same year of his heroic testimony against allowing homosexuals in the Military.

Mr. Fulkerson explains that, “While Americans appreciate the warrior spirit of someone like him, we admire much more a person who is not afraid to tell the truth.” That’s why “An American Knight” is not only an interesting book for military buffs but offers inspiring reading for anyone looking for noble examples amidst modern amorality. On the night of Oct. 28, 2008, this Marine met his maker. But while Col. Ripley is dead, his legend lives on. If you listen closely to the din of contemporary political-military debates, the voice of Ripley echoes.

Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/21/not-in-the-pentagon-closet/

A "gung ho" John Ripley as a Captain in Vietnam

By Debbie Thurman, DAILY COURIER
Saturday, April 3, 2010

This week Christians observed the Passion of Christ, the suffering servant but also the King of kings. Were he still among us, one warrior-servant whose deeply abiding faith and military prowess helped shape him into a legend — a latter-day knight — would be solemnly worshipping. He also likely would be recalling another Easter Sunday 38 years ago at almost precisely this time of year in a quaint but war-ravaged South Vietnamese village called Dong Ha.

In 1972, Marine Capt. John Ripley was in South Vietnam for the third time as one of the last American military advisers. His first two combat tours were as a rifle company commander. He was already the stuff of legend.

Read more by clicking here.

To purchase An American Knight: The Life of Col. John Ripley click here.

Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph

A Review of Richard Botkin’s Recent Book: Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam Story of Honor and Triumph

By Michael Whitcraft
One of the most cited and least understood wars in American history is Vietnam.  Due to these misunderstandings, it has become synonymous with the words quagmire and disaster.

Thus, opponents of current military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan decry our operations there saying that America is getting itself into “another Vietnam.”  However, were US military activities in Southeast Asia really so bad after all?

The answer is yes and no: Yes, they were certainly a worldwide embarrassment as our troops left the field of battle without victory.  However, judged by the performance of America’s military, the answer must be a resounding no.  Sadly, politicians, not warriors, decided the outcome.

Thus, the true story of the American soldiers’ valor must be told.  Such was the task of Richard Botkin in his recent 650-page tome, Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph.  In it, he successfully fulfills this task by doing exactly what his title suggests: telling the story of the Vietnam War in terms of honor and triumph.

The book primarily focuses on three Marine heroes: Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC, Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley, USMC and Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Le Ba Binh. In telling their stories, Mr. Botkin seamlessly intertwines a retelling of the history of the entire Vietnam War.  His work is painstakingly researched, yet highly readable.

Certain points stand out among the many details of the book.  First, the immense suffering that the Vietnamese people suffered at the hands of the Communists.  Mr. Botkin vividly demonstrates this with incidents of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA) intentional targeting of innocent civilians.

After the end of the war, more challenges awaited the devastated South, including persecution from their Northern captors. This included the creation of “reeducation” camps throughout the country.  Despite their inconspicuous label, these camps had nothing to do with regaining lost knowledge.  As Mr. Botkin points out, the installation of these camps “was nothing more than organized revenge on a massive scale.” (p. 548)

Ride the Thunder includes the story of how Lieutenant Colonel Le Ba Binh was forced to spend more than eight years in one such camp, during which time he was allowed less than two hours total visit time with his family.

Another important point Mr. Botkin highlights is the military success the American and South Vietnamese armies enjoyed throughout the war.  He convincingly dispels many media-created myths that Vietnam was a lost cause.

The fact is that American forces did not lose a single battle of any consequence in the entire war, in spite of their self-defeating policy that allowed the enemy free communications along the Ho Chi Minh trail and safe havens in Laos, Cambodia and North Vietnam.  Even the oft-touted Tet Offensive of 1968 was a very real defeat for the NVA.

Despite the operation’s enormous scope, South Vietnamese and American forces had already regrouped and began a counterattack within hours of its first salvos.  They were so successful that other than continued fighting in Hue and Khe Sahn, the entire offensive was defeated within two weeks.  In Hue, expelling the Communists took twenty-seven days, while the enemy eventual abandoned Khe Sahn as well.

Therefore, the North Vietnamese did not gain any ground and loss an estimated 45-50 thousand troops KIA during the offensive.  Many more thousands were captured.  (American deaths during the entire war are estimated at around 58 thousand.)

All-in-all, military leadership classified the operation as a tremendous victory.  The only Communist victory of the campaign had been fought for America’s soul.  As Mr. Botkin described it: “the Communist offensive did achieve a public relations coup with the American public well beyond what a militarily defeated [NVA] could have possibly dreamed.” (p. 146)

However, a Communist operation in March of 1972 dwarfed Tet in size, aggressiveness and overall danger to South Vietnam.  Dubbed the Easter Offensive, it began with a simultaneous attack on twelve bases that spanned the entire length of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  From its very beginning, all known friendly artillery positions came under attack.

With American troops already largely withdrawn, the objective seemed obvious and frighteningly obtainable: break through the South’s weak defensive lines and drive southward to Saigon, thus winning the war and subjecting all of Vietnam to Communist domination.

Fortunately for the South, the Communist troops met unbelievable resistance that was greatly aided by the actions of three tough Marine officers who refused to give up.

The first was Vietnamese Lieutenant Colonel Binh, whose battalion (known as Soi Bien or “Wolves of the Sea”) held the ground defending a bridge across the Cua Viet River at the city of Dong Ha.  The bridge was highly strategic because it was the only crossing in the area sturdy enough to support the more than 200 tanks the NVA had assembled on the north side of the river.

Lieutenant Colonel Binh persistently held his ground in spite of overwhelming odds.  It was his training and leadership that kept the situation together in Dong Ha as his men faced the fight of their lives.

The Lieutenant Colonel’s determination is well demonstrated in a radio message he sent out to his commanders when rumors began to circulate that Dong Ha had fallen.  He said:

It is rumored that Dong Ha has fallen…My orders are to hold the enemy in Dong Ha.  We will fight in Dong Ha.  We will die in Dong Ha.  We will not leave.  As long as one Marine draws a breath of life, Dong Ha will belong to us. (pp. 327-328)

While the desperation of the situation led scores of South Vietnamese troops throughout the DMZ to desert, not a man of the Soi Bien left his post.

Colonel Le Ba Binh, left, at the funeral of Col. John Ripley with Gy. Sgt. Jason Carrawell.

Their efforts supported American Colonel John W. Ripley, then serving with Colonel Binh as an advisor.  He would need all the help he could get as he took on a mission to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge, in an endeavor so daring that it has become part of Marine Corps legend.

The bridge’s superstructure was a hulking construction that had been made by American Seabees.  It was supported by six enormous I-beams three feet tall.  To destroy it, Colonel Ripley would have to hand-walk and crawl 500 pounds of TNT and Plastic Explosives one hundred feet into its under belly.  All the while, he would be submitted to continual enemy fire.  His difficulties were multiplied by the sleep and food deprivation he had suffered throughout the previous days.

The feat was so difficult that no one believed survival, let alone successful completion, was possible.  Nevertheless, after hours of intense physical exertion, everything had been put in place, the charges were detonated and the bridge was no more.  Colonel Ripley was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that day.

Some historians have argued that the destruction of that bridge was the single most important factor that postponed the defeat of South Vietnam until 1975.

However, there is another individual on whose shoulders the defense of South Vietnam during the Easter Offensive weighed heavily, but who has received insufficient historic recognition so far.  That is why Mr. Botkin’s description of the role played by Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Turley is of particular value.

When the Lieutenant Colonel chose to return to Vietnam in 1971, there were only about one thousand Marines still on the ground.  Since President Nixon’s policy of “Vietnamization” was fully underway, the brunt of the fighting was being born by Vietnamese soldiers.  That is why Lieutenant Colonel Turley fully expected to see little if any action during this, his second tour.

His role as assistant senior Marine advisor would consist in helping senior Marine advisor Colonel Josh Dorsey and perhaps filling in for him from time to time.  As such, he would live in Saigon, which, at the time, was far removed from combat.  The closest he imagined he would come to actual fighting was an occasional and uneventful visit to the frontlines.

Colonel Gerald Turley, Vietnam hero and author of The Easter Offensive.

His expectations were shattered when, on a four-day visit to I Corps Tactical Zone, the Easter Offensive broke out.  He happened to be at 3rd ARVN Division forward headquarters at Ai Tu when the Army officer in charge there began suffering nervous problems, abandoned his post and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Turley to take the helm.

Worse yet, communications with higher leadership in Saigon were practically nonexistent, meaning this change in command went unreported.  In addition to facing the largest Communist advance of the entire war, Lieutenant Colonel Turley also had to confront hostile and mistrustful leaders, who continually second guessed his decisions and attempted to countermand many of his orders.  The situation was so desperate, he was forced to take responsibility for disregarding some of the directives he received from higher-ups.

While other players in the offensive faced their predicament with the support of their leaders, expecting praise if they survived, Lieutenant Colonel Turley could only anticipate disciplinary action and perhaps court martial.

Diorama depicting Colonel John Ripley underneath the Dong Ha bridge located in Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy.

Even when he ordered Colonel Ripley to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge, he did so against the direct wishes of his commanders.  However, the reality of over two hundred tanks about to cross the Cua Viet River and invade South Vietnam was too dangerous for him to accept when he had the possibility to prevent it.

In spite of having no food, virtually no sleep and a severe case of dysentery, he faced the opposition of his superiors and stood by his post, directing air, naval and ground operations that salvaged a desperate situation.  He continued in this capacity for a full four days until he was ordered back to headquarters for questioning.  The physical, psychological and moral stress he faced during this time can hardly be imagined.

Nevertheless, he survived and emerged as one of the greatest examples of “honor and triumph” of the entire war.

The stories of these three heroes and much more are included in Rich Botkin’s Ride the Thunder.  This makes it a must-read for all military-buffs, American patriots and especially those who are interested in knowing the true history of the Vietnam War – one not tainted by politically correct historians intent on criticizing America and especially its military.

However, readers should be warned that Mr. Botkin’s book, while less offensive than many military volumes, does have its share of profanity, which he mostly limited to the contents of direct quotes from characters in the book.  Similarly, there are references, though not graphic, to those activities that have unfortunately been so closely linked with soldiers throughout history.

Nevertheless, Ride the Thunder is an exciting and highly informative read.  No one’s military library is complete without it.

TFP volunteers were honored to meet 2nd Lt. Peter Sprenger at the National Infantry Museum

by: Michael Gorre

Thirteen TFP volunteers traveled fourteen hours from Pennsylvania to Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, to show their support and gratitude to our brave troops on November 19 through 22, 2009. They also made the trip to counter-protest leftist pacifists at the gates of the military base. The thirteen young men were treated to some glaring contrasts that made the long trip a memorable one.

Rally for the Troops

Gathered at the intersection of 13th Street and Broadway, the volunteers unfurled two large banners reading: “The American soldier guarantees the peace, not socialist protesters,” and “We are proud of our military heroes. May God bless and protect them!” The banners were accompanied by hand-held signs calling for passersby to “Honk for our brave troops!” The result was a cheerful chorus of honks from the majority of vehicles, from large trucks, police cars and even ambulances crossing the busy intersection.

“Knowing pacifist protestors were in town, the locals were extremely happy to voice their gratitude to the troops by honks, waves and thumbs up,” said the group’s organizer John Ritchie. TFP volunteers also passed out copies of their statement published in the local newspaper, the Ledger-Enquirer, titled “A Call to Gratitude: Who Will Thank Our Heroes?

TFP Members Thomas Schneider and St. Louis de Montfort Academy Student Thomas Pinelli encouraged passing motorist to support "Our Brave Troops."

A few of the pacifist protesters passed by and briefly argued with the volunteers, but were visibly disconcerted by the overwhelming support from Columbus residents who would not stop honking. Then a lady in a mechanized wheelchair came along with a gentleman wearing an Uncle Sam costume. They held their own “Support the Troops!” signs and happily joined the campaign. “It was impressive to see a lady in a wheelchair join us able-bodied men at the street corner. I’m sure people also honked to congratulate her,” said TFP volunteer Thomas Schneider. “She showed us that if you love an ideal enough, you can redefine the word ‘disabled.’”

Meeting with a Hero

While in town, the TFP volunteers toured the newly opened National Infantry Museum, described by Major General Jerry White as a “multi-million dollar love letter to the American soldier.” The museum is simply awe-inspiring. Dedicated to the courageous infantry soldiers that have defended our country, the museum brings to life many historic wars and battles with sophisticated sound and visual effects, cast figures of real infantry soldiers and numerous historic items from actual battles, such as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that was damaged by terrorists in Iraq. The museum also sports a shooting range with M-4 and M-16 rifles modified for electronic target practice but still kick like the lethal versions. The glass encased Hall of Valor honors the nearly 1,500 infantry recipients of the Medal of Honor.

War Hero Peter Sprenger (right) took time to speak with TFP members at the newly opened National Infantry Museum.

To make their tour of military history even more vivid, the TFP volunteers chanced to meet a newly commissioned 2nd lieutenant with an eye-patch over his right eye. His name is 2nd Lt. Peter Sprenger, the young soldier who sustained serious injuries including the loss of one eye to a suicide car bomb attack while serving in Iraq in 2003. This brave wounded soldier defied all odds and skeptics by passing U.S. Army Ranger training and going back to combat. Then, because of his exceptional dedication, the Army decided to grant him entrance into Officer Candidate School which he recently completed, receiving his 2nd lieutenant’s insignia from General David Petraeus himself. The TFP volunteers chatted with the unassuming soldier who, when told why the TFP volunteers were in town, thanked them for their support and gratitude. When he stated he was from California, the volunteers told him about the TFP campaign there in defense of traditional marriage. Lighting up, 2nd Lt. Sprenger said, “I voted for Prop. 8!” referring to the bill that protected marriage as between a man and a woman. As each volunteer bade him farewell, they could not but think they shook the hand of a true hero, one willing to lay down his life for his country.

Liberal Nuns who saw no problem being associated with those who openly promote Communism.

Pacifist Protesters Promote Communism

In light of the above, imagine the contrast when the TFP volunteers campaigned close to the area where socialist pacifists picketed the entrance of Fort Benning. The demonstration against Fort Benning and the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) — formerly called the School of the Americas — was a conglomeration of confused leftist Catholic nuns — only a few wore a habit but most wore marked sweaters identifying them as nuns — communist agitators, rainbow-flag waving

Fidel Castro Calendar

pro-homosexual activists and many students from Jesuit high schools and universities. Right next to tables manned by leftist Catholic nuns was a well-frequented tent of a radical communist bookstore called Revolution Books that sold Che Guevara and Fidel Castro wall calendars and atheist communist literature calling for open Marxist revolution.

Wait. Didn’t the Berlin Wall fall twenty years ago? Apparently, liberation theology and the subversive communist ideas that built the wall are still alive.

Distributing the “A Call to Gratitude: Who Will Thank Our Heroes?” fliers among the pacifists.

After campaigning a block away from the pacifist demonstration, the TFP volunteers distributed copies of their statement: “A Call to Gratitude: Who Will Thank Our Heroes?” among the pacifists themselves. The look of consternation did not take long to form on most of the pacifists’ faces as they read the flier lauding our soldiers’ service and the training they offer South American nations to combat Marxist guerrillas. Ironically, many of the pacifists took a belligerent attitude towards the TFP volunteers, including one long-haired male organizer who shouted, “keep your propaganda away” and told other organizers to make sure the TFP volunteers stayed away from them. In the background, the loud speakers repeatedly blared a song with the lyrics, “the power of love…the power of love…” So much for peace, love and tolerance…

It is experiences like these that help one to better appreciate the heroism and sacrifice of soldiers like 2nd Lt. Peter Sprenger. Oftentimes, we need stark contrasts to awaken in us the admiration due to men of honor and to help us loath the harmful ideologies of pacifism and Marxism that seek to disarm and dishonor hallowed institutions like our military. May God bless and protect our heroes as they defend us from our enemies!