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  • Marine inducted into Ranger Hall of Fame....

    Ripley is set for induction into Ranger Hall of Fame



    By Bryan Mitchell - [email protected]
    Posted : June 16, 2008

    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, is set to become the first Marine inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
    “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,” he 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, USARA Home. 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, ahead of his trip to Georgia to be ushered into the group on June 11. Friends, family and former comrades from across the country are 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.”
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