Force Recon Marine Col Ripley inducted into Ranger Hall of Fame


Force Recon
Verified SOF
Mar 15, 2008
Tun Tavern
Ripley becomes first Marine in Ranger HoF

By Bryan Mitchell - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jun 16, 2008 7:59:51 EDT
Marine Corps Times Article

Retired Col. John W. Ripley, the legendary leatherneck whose exploits in Vietnam earned him a Navy Cross and an eternal spot in Marine Corps lore, became the first Marine inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

“It's pretty amazing really. I can't believe it,” said Ripley, who retired in 1992 after a 35-year career. “When I was called by Fort Benning and this sergeant first class told me what was happening, my jaw just dropped. I couldn't believe it.”

Ripley said his famous assault on the Dong Ha Bridge, on Easter morning 1972, was straightforward. There was a bridge to demolish, and he was the Marine to do it.

“I was a little surprised because the Vietnamese engineers had pre-positioned explosives there,” Ripley said. “And that's when I showed up.”

Ripley had to climb underneath the bridge to avoid enemy fire and to perfectly position the explosives to bring it down.

“I had to swing like a trapeze artist in a circus and leap over the other I-beam,” said Ripley, whose combat awards also include the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars with combat “V.” “I would work myself into the steel. 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.”

The destruction of the bridge allowed his unit of 735 Vietnamese Marines to hold off several thousand approaching enemy fighters.

Lt. Col. Jeff Knudson, 39, commanding officer for the Marine detachment at Fort Benning, Ga., said it's impossible to overstate the importance to the Corps of Ripley's induction into the Ranger Hall of Fame.

“At a recent ceremony here, we had the chief of staff of the U.S. Army at the 2008 Best Ranger Competition. He said that if the Army is the strength of the nation, then the Ranger is the heart of the Army,” Knudson said. “So when you hold it in that level, with the title and distinction of being a Ranger, to select a retired Marine Corps officer is evidence of how impressive his career is.”

The Ranger Hall of Fame honors and preserves the contributions of the most extraordinary Rangers in American history, according to the Web site of the U.S. Army Ranger Association . It strives to identify and highlight individuals as role models for current Rangers and to educate the public about the culture of the U.S. Army Rangers.

The 2008 class includes 13 former Rangers, as well as Ripley. Of those, eight served as officers while six were enlisted.

Ripley spoke to Marine Corps Times by phone from his home in Maryland before traveling to Georgia to be ushered into the group on June 11. Friends, family and former comrades from across the country were slated to join Ripley at the ceremony.

Selected for Ranger school
Ripley enlisted in the Corps in 1957 and was selected to attend the U.S. Naval Academy a year later. While serving as a first lieutenant, he was selected to attend Ranger school at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1965.

He took the class in the dead of winter, which he recalls as being especially brutal that year.

“They had to break the ice for us to qualify in the water survival class,” Ripley said. “It was so cold that we had to constantly worry about frostbite and hypothermia. The real leadership of these men stood out.”

To create a true-to-combat training environment, the troops were deliberately kept hungry.

“They wanted you to continue to perform under these extremes of physical depravation,” he said.

The training he received at Ranger school, as well as his time serving with the British Royal Marines, prepared him well for his tours in Vietnam, especially his famous destruction of the Dong Ha Bridge.

“Not once in my entire command was I ever surprised by the enemy,” he said. “On the contrary, we surprised them. We would ambush the enemy. So we were by far the best.”

During his assault on the bridge, Ripley called on his skills gleaned during his Ranger training.

“That could not have happened had I not had the training I had at Ranger school. I was exhausted, at night, freezing cold and when I got there you had to rely on just your adrenaline and your staying power,” Ripley said.

After he retired, Ripley worked in education for a number of years before he served as the director of history and museums for the Marine Corps. In that position, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Triangle, Va.-based National Museum of the Marine Corps.

About two dozen Marines currently attend Ranger school each year, with about a 50 percent graduation rate. That attendance is down from a historical average of approximately 85 Marines annually going to the grueling school, Knudson said. The strain of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan translates into fewer opportunities for Marines to attend the 10-week course.

Asked if there were Ripley protégés serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today, the legendary Marine spoke of the sacrifice today's Marines are making for the country.

“I would dare say there are a number, and God bless them,” he said. “Every service has dozens of them who are just solidly performing, doing the hard work and serving their country.”
Here is the citation.


Colonel , U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

Colonel Ripley is inducted into the Ranger Hall for Fame in recognition of his extraordinary and illustrious military career both in combat and command. During 35 years of military service, Ranger Ripley lead troops with distinction at every unit level from Rifle Platoon through Regimental Commander. As a Reconnaissance Officer with the 2 nd Force Reconnaissance Co., Ranger Ripley attended the Ranger Course as member of Class 5-65 and was recognized as the Distinguished Honor Graduate.

Commanding a Rifle Company with 3 rd Marines in “I” Corps just below the DMZ, Ripley saw extensive combat from the famous " Leatherneck Square " area of Dong Ha to the ‘Rockpile'. He was involved in warfare at every DMZ Fire Base from Laos to Khe Sanh. Wounded four separate occasions, Ripley refused evacuation on the first three events while managing to avoid the paperwork and 3 Purple Hearts which would have mandated his removal from the fight. Seriously wounded a fourth time, Ripley was forced to evacuate and upon recovery insisted he be returned to his Company to complete the mission of leadership to his men. In addition to the Purple Heart, Ripley was awarded the Silver Star Medal and Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for Valor.

Ranger Ripley next served as an Exchange Officer with Royal Marine Commandos and saw action in Singapore with the 3rd Commando Brigade; in Northern Malaya with 40 Commando and campaigned with the famous Gurkha rifles. Ripley was privileged to command the RM's Recce Troop (Reconnaissance) in the Artic and Malaya as well as ‘Yankee' Commando, Royal Marines, a light infantry company deployed throughout Great Britain and Norway .

Ripley's most famous tour of combat duty was as a Senior Military Advisor during the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Invasion. NVA troops and Soviet T-54 tanks had crossed the DMZ and were approaching a strategic bridge over the Cam Lo River. For over two hours and under withering small arms fire, Ripley swung hand-over-hand out to the spans and stringers under the bridge setting over 40 pounds of explosives. Exhausted and with enemy troops and equipment on the bridge, Ripley blew the bridge. It is written that, “ What Ripley did was simply impossible” . Ripley was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism.

During his two years of Vietnam service, Ranger Ripley participated in 26 major operations and holds the distinction of more field combat command experience than any other Marine commander of that era.

In retirement Col. Ripley was President and Chancellor of Southern Virginia University and served as President of Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham , Virginia . In 1999 Col. Ripley became the Director of Marine Corps History and Museums, Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. Col. Ripley's exploits have been chronicled in the book The Bridge at Dong Ha ; His action is forever memorialized at the US Naval Academy with a diorama titled " Ripley at the Bridge "; Col. Ripley was the first Marine officer to be honored with the Naval Academy's Distinguished Graduate Award ; The Naval Academy Prep School dedicated a dormitory as “ RIPLEY HALL ” in perpetual honor of their former graduate; Ranger Ripley's heroic actions in Vietnam are a subject of Oliver North's “ War Stories ” titled “ The Furious Fight for Dong Ha ”; “ Ripley's March ” was written honoring Col. Ripley for his military service, valor in combat and contributions to the United States; “FOB Ripley” is a Firebase located in south central Afghanistan named in honor of Ranger Ripley.
The Bridge at Dong Ha is an excellent book. There was a reason he wasn't awarded the MOH, but I've forgotten what it was.... not enough Americans witnessing it I think.
No. Marines don't wear tabs or patches of any sort. Colonel Ripley also has a Royal Marine Commando tab that he can't wear from when he was an exchange officer. Tabs like that get entered into our service record books, along with foreign jump wings and the sort, but we can't wear them. You always hear about guys sewing them under their pocket flaps but I have never seen someone do that.
Thats too bad in a sense. I mean you don't want your uniform looking like the technicolor dream coat, but even CF who attend the Ranger course, can wear the Tab.

Only on dress uniforms though.
The Marine Corps feels that the only thing you need on your uniform is the Eagle Globe and Anchor and your rank. There is nothing that distinguishes the supply Marine from the infantry Marine.
Congrats to Col. Ripley! That is a tremendous honor. He has an amazing personal history!
You always hear about guys sewing them under their pocket flaps but I have never seen someone do that.

My buddy Louie had his Ranger tab stitched into the space between the buttons on his cammie top (not in the pocket, but the ones up the center).

Congrats to Col Ripley - that is one hard Devil Dog/Ranger!