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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.
Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War 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.
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.
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.
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.
by Norman Fulkerson
On November 1, 2008, Ron Darden was watching the evening news when an item, scrolling across the bottom of the screen, caught his eye. He was shocked to find out that his former company commander, Colonel John Walter Ripley, had died at his home in Annapolis, Maryland.
On that same day, I decided to write An American Knight, The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, the first biography of this great man.
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Sergeant Darden admitted that he was afraid when, as a 19-year-old lance corporal, he first joined Lima Company. He drew guard duty on his first night in Vietnam and described how his fears were put to ease when he received an unexpected visit from Captain John Ripley, Lima Company’s fearless commander, who jumped into the foxhole next to him. The solicitous captain asked Darden where he was from, if he was married and how his parents were getting along without him.
During this night visit, John Ripley spoke to Ron Darden with the gentleness of a father and told him it was okay to be afraid, but that he should not let his fears dominate him. Sergeant Darden would go on to earn a Silver Star when he ran out into the middle of a firefight to save the life of a wounded Marine who lay helpless on the ground. He is a man who has seen the worst of war while serving under the best of battle field commanders.
As Darden related stories about John Ripley during a phone interview, I sensed that this Silver-Star-recipient was fighting back tears as he remembered this remarkable man and that unforgettable night so many years ago. He could not believe the lack of news coverage of this great man. His surprise quickly turned to frustration and then anger as he searched for more details about the passing of a man, who, long before his untimely death had already been revered as a “living legend.”
The news of Colonel Ripley’s death did in fact begin to hit the airwaves and his obituary eventually appeared in
The New York Times. What the Times and so many others newspaper articles recounted was the story of a man who blew up the Dong Ha bridge on Easter Sunday in 1972. This is understandable considering that Colonel Ripley almost singlehandedly halted the largest Communist offensive of the entire Vietnam War. This amounted to stopping 30,000 enemy troops and 200 tanks. He was successful in this task and would later sum up in actions in a succinct way:
“The bridge was there, the enemy was there, and I was there.”
Desiring to Tell the Whole Truth
What he did on that day defies belief and I could not fail to narrate the Dong Ha story in An American Knight. There is so much more to Colonel Ripley, however, that has been conveniently overlooked or glossed over by those either unable or unwilling to tell the whole truth. Colonel Ripley was a rare type of warrior who willingly and, his sons told me, enthusiastically addressed a number of politically incorrect issues of his day.
I saw the importance of one of the issues he addressed when I was “mugged by reality” in an airport some years ago by the sight of a young lady about to board a plane. She was a picture of femininity, in every way, except for her battle fatigues and the rucksack thrown over her shoulder. Moments later, her tearful parents said their final farewells to a daughter being sent off to do a man’s job.
It was only natural, therefore, that I drew an enormous consolation when I first read the heroic testimony of Colonel Ripley against sending women, like this one, into harm’s way. While others paid homage to the “god of equality,” he chose to defend the noble ideals of womanhood and femininity. This, and his care for children, were the things which caused me to see in Colonel Ripley a modern-day knight.
Since justice is the virtue whereby man renders to each what is due to him, I could do nothing less for this great man. This was one of the motivating factors which urged me to write his life. Mysteriously enough, I was egged on in this project as much by Colonel Ripley himself, as anyone. In a letter to a friend he said something which struck me like a voice from beyond the grave: “If a young officer or Marine ever asks, what is the meaning of Semper Fidelis, tell them my story.” After reading such a thing, I could not fail to tell this man’s story?
“I Walked with a Hero.”
There was another motivating factor which urged me on and that was my desire to console hero-seeking-Americans who yearn for a role model like Colonel Ripley who they can admire and emulate. During the researching of An American Knight, I took time to read numerous website commentaries and was inspired by the eulogies posted by average Americans.
One man, no doubt inspired by the Marines’ Hymn which speaks of Heaven being guarded by U.S. Marines said the following.
“We claim Semper Fidelis as our motto, but it was Col. Ripley’s life. His loyalty was complete, in all directions. The earth is less today without his soul, but the heavens are a safer place tonight.”
Another comment was even more impressive but demands an introduction.
Colonel Ripley was an outstanding officer who took great pride in the position he earned. This can be seen in the picture I chose for the cover of An American Knight. Yet he was a man that had a profound humility and never wanted attention drawn to himself. Colonel Ripley was not a man who tried to impress others with his Navy Cross or his legendary status. In fact he would often point out the achievements of those of lesser rank and frequently expressed his unbounded appreciation for the common Marine Corps grunts that “get the job done.”
He did this in a very refreshing way without ever adopting the “one of the guys” egalitarian attitude, so lamentably
common among many people of higher station. Colonel Ripley was, from top to bottom, a serious Marine Corps officer and was not ashamed of it. Yet he never missed the opportunity to challenge those around him to reach higher. It is for this reason that towards the end of his life he gave himself wholeheartedly to mentoring. He loved to counsel young men starting out on their military careers, especially those of the United States Naval Academy, his alma mater, which he loved with his whole heart.
All of this helps in understanding better a comment of a midshipman after Colonel Ripley’s death:
“This is the same man who sat at dinner with me and asked me, a first class midshipman, about to be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, to sign his program for the evening because he was going to read about me in the papers and all the great things I did for the Marine Corps. I walked with a hero. Semper Fidelis.”
Rest in Peace Now!
I saved the best eulogy for last. It came from a mother of four, who defined herself, even if inaccurately, as a “simple American women.” I pray that she someday know how moved I was to read her words.
“I never had the honor of meeting Col. John Ripley. In fact, before a dear friend suggested that I look him up, I had never heard his name. But I have sat here and read stories of his life and countless postings by the people that loved him and will miss him dearly. I am a simple American woman enjoying a world that Col. Ripley dedicated his life to protecting. I am humbled by the recounts of his heroism and tireless dedication to his country. I suppose I’d just like to say thank you. Thank you from the core of my being and on behalf of my four children. When the time is right, I will tell each of them of this great man, Col. John Ripley. May God bless your soul.”
I thank you also Colonel Ripley. Rest in peace now, I will them your story.
On the evening of October 8, 2009, Marine Raider, Sergeant Kenneth O’Donnell died as his home after a valiant struggle with brain cancer. Although his name might not mean much to most people, he was a member of a very special group of Marines who fought in World War II. They were the ground breakers for our modern day special forces. It was their job during the first weeks of the war to conduct surprise attacks behind enemy lines. The men who formed this unit were simply known as “The Raiders”.
“They were the first American combat forces to wear camouflage, to operate at night and to be trained in martial arts and knife fighting…Although the Raiders were in business for only two years as specialized units, their actions became the stuff of legend. A look at their decorations for individual acts of valor tells the tale.”
In their brief existence, seven Marine Raiders earned our nations highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor and another 138 were awarded the Navy Cross.
If the reader will take the time to watch the videos I have provided on the these unique group of Marines, you will see clips of Sergeant O’Donnell. What impressed me most about the man was that, although he was a true warrior, he possessed a refreshing unpretentiousness.
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Shusko, USMC (Ret.), director of the Marine Corps Martial Arts program at Quantico, was with Sergeant O’Donnell before he died and took the took time to speak with me by phone. Shusko said he looked upon the late warrior as a grandfather, then went on to tell me how he would describe the man for those who did not have the pleasure to know him.
“I tell folks that if they look in the American dictionary for the definition of the word gentleman, they will find a picture of Ken O’Donnell.” On this day we should all remember Sergeant Kenneth O’Donnell, a proud member of the Marine Corps Raiders; a gentleman and a warrior.
Sergeant O’Donnell was 85 at the time of his death. Our sincere condolences to his wife Mary Jane.
May he rest in peace.
 Marine Raiders Honored at Quantico with Bricks, Museum http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0809/651685.html
In today’s increasingly troubled society, there is a desperate need for role models, especially among the youth. Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC is an authentic American hero and a true role model, whose life is worthy of admiration and emulation.
Known for his impressive heroics during the Vietnam War, Colonel Ripley earned the Navy Cross, along with numerous other awards. His legendary career in the United States Marine Corps is well-known, but now, for the first time ever, a new book that covers his whole life — from his adventure-filled boyhood in rural Southwestern Virginia to his days at the U.S. Naval Academy, his tours of duty in Vietnam, his post retirement years and finally, the final days before his death — is soon to be released.
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In An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC, TFP author Norman Fulkerson succeeds in telling the fascinating story of this legendary Marine, whose ancestors fought in every American conflict since the Revolutionary War.
In An American Knight, Norman Fulkerson shows:
**Colonel Ripley’s deep Catholic Faith, his love for his children and his devotion to his wife, Moline.
**His many struggles, one of the last being his liver transplant, described by his surgeon as the “most dramatic” one in history.
**The ultimate warrior whose Faith, discipline and morals provided him the strength necessary to vanquish enemies in battle.
**The gallantry of a man who faced public opinion and political correctness when he opposed homosexuals in the military and women in combat.
**How he transformed youthful energy into a determination and ultimately success at the US Naval Academy.
**How he stopped a Communist tank column and 30,000 NVA dead in their tracks.
This makes An American Knight a splendid and inspiring tribute to one of America’s greatest fighting men, whose legacy will deeply mark the souls of all those who love the virtues of the medieval knight: Faith, honor, heroism and integrity.
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From the foreward by General James Livingston:
“He [Colonel Ripley] saw accepting risk as part of his job as a Marine. He expressed this while speaking to a group of young men considering a career in the Corps. “Risk comes with the job,” he told them. “If you are not comfortable with risk, you need to get into a new line of work.”
“These and many of Colonel Ripley’s other qualities are enumerated in An American Knight. Thus, I recommend it strongly. I hope my thoughts will help its readers to gain a better appreciation for this Marine who will doubtlessly be remembered as one of the greatest men ever to honor the Corps.”
General James Livingston
Medal of Honor Recipient
Here’s what they’re saying about An American Knight:
“I knew Colonel John W. Ripley like a brother for 42 plus years, but the facts are that I learned still more about my Marine buddy from Norman Fulkerson’s book… Norman goes into family and early life details that started this Marine on his most successful Marine career as well as John’s perception of the obligation and performance of his duties in uniform. This is a “must read” for all desiring to be a leader, especially those desiring to lead Marines.”
Colonel Wesley Lee Fox, USMC (Ret.)
Medal of Honor Recipient
Author of Marine Rifleman: Forty-three Years in the Corps and Courage and Fear
“In his new book An American Knight, Norman Fulkerson has vividly captured the extraordinary active journey in life of Colonel John Ripley. In this first ever biography of a truly legendary Marine, the reader will see a man of many images; a gentle person who was comfortable with people of all stations of life, a caring father, a faithful husband, and a Marine capable of doing the seemingly impossible when I ordered him to destroy the Dong Ha Bridge.
“Because of his compelling and uncommon level of service to this great nation, Colonel John Ripley truly deserves to be held up as a role model for all to follow. Norman Fulkerson’s book will help to insure this.”
Colonel Gerald Turley, USMC (Ret.)
Author of The Easter Offensive
“An American Knight by Norman Fulkerson is an outstanding tribute to one of the finest men to ever wear a uniform of the United States of America.”
Commander Paul Galanti, USN (Ret.)
POW for seven years
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To pre-order your copy of An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC, by Norman Fulkerson, visit www.americanknight.org or call 1-888-317-5571.