He won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Marty (1955). And his many screen roles include Sergeant “Fatso” Judson in From Here to Eternity (1953), General Worden in The Dirty Dozen (1967), and Dutch Engstrom in The Wild Bunch (1969). But he is perhaps best remembered as Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale, the title character in television’s madcap sitcom, “McHale’s Navy” (1962-66). The congenial “real McHale” talked recently about his decade in the U.S. Navy and his film work with Naval History Editor Fred L. Schultz.
Naval History: What made you decide to enlist in the Navy rather than any of the other services?
Borgnine: I’m what you call a Depression sailor. I got a job immediately after leaving high school; I was lucky—three dollars a week and all I could eat, working on a vegetable truck. I had never thought of it as a career, but that was all I could find in those days. You were lucky to get off the streets. One day while riding on the truck, I saw a sign that said: “Join the Navy, See the World.” So I went to the recruiter, unbeknownst to my mother and dad, and said I’d like to join the Navy. They put me on a waiting list and asked if I’d be ready to come when they called. I said, “Absolutely!” So I got the call and, believe it or not, got in on another fellow’s case of the piles. He failed, and I made it. I believe at that time only 11 or 12 of us made it out of 12,000; that many people were ready to go into the service, simply because they wanted to get off the streets. It wasn’t that we were bums. We just wanted to help our families, as I did, and also wanted to get out there and learn something.
So I joined the Navy and went to the Newport, Rhode Island, Training Station in September of 1935. It was a whole new experience. I’ll never forget the advice my dad gave me the morning I left. He said, “You know, son, you’re not going to be tied down by your mother’s apron strings any more.” He said, “You’re going to have to go out and do it on your own.”
I remember one day—I still get a little choked up about it—I was on board a ship, the four-stacker destroyer Lamberton (DD-119), and the crew was celebrating Mother’s Day by listening to a program about it on the radio. That hit me in such a way that I sat under a ladder and cried. You can’t imagine how hard I cried. And after it was over, I suddenly realized I had cut the apron strings. But it made a man out of me. And I have never regretted one day, not ever.
From the April 2012 Edition of Leatherneck Magazine:
By R. R. Keene
If you’ve never been to Dong Ha, you haven’t missed a thing. Well, perhaps with the exception of Easter 1972.
No one really knows how many of those who were there are still around to talk about it. The South Vietnamese Marines are no more: banished or dead. The North Vietnamese soldiers who fired their weapons in frustration from across the Cau Viet River are scattered and old or dead. John Ripley’s been dead for three years and wasn’t the kind to brag.
So, from time to time we have to retell his legendary tale and pass it to every generation of Marines.
Colonel John W. Ripley: When they talk of Marines with cojones, one thing comes to mind—Ripley as a captain at the bridge at Dong Ha.
At 33, Ripley was an “old Asia hand” on his second Vietnam combat tour. He deployed in country as a reconnaissance platoon leader in 1965 and then commanded “Lima” Company, 3d Battalion, Third Marine Regiment. “Ripley’s Raiders” they call themselves, and they insist the “33” label of Vietnamese “Ba Muoi Ba” Bier (beer) really means 3d Bn, 3d Marines. They liked Ripley. He was no wuss. He gave his Marines no slack, kept them in the field and got them in plenty of combat, but also took good care of them, and they took their wounds together.
In addition to the Purple Heart, Ripley won a Silver Star during an attack with Lima Co against an NVA regimental command post.
The men of Lima Co admire their “skipper” and like telling stories about him.
One Marine said, “I remember Staff Seargeant Joe Martin saying, Ripley was on Harlan County [(LST1196)] in port on the Caribbean in 1964. He was crossdecking when one of the ‘squid’ officers of the day said something insulting about the Corps. ‘Rip’ threw him in the drink. They put him in ‘hack’ down over the bilges in the bowels of USS Boxer [(LPH4)], where the hull makes a V. He did pushups all day. Eventually he took over Weapons, 2/2 and was Martin’s platoon commander.”
Ripley, even for a Marine, was a physical fitness animal. He was a “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war” believer who’d taken it to heart—and all the other muscles of his body—as an enlisted man and later as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. It gave him an edge on his exchange tour with the British Royal Marines on the Malay Peninsula, at the U.S. Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools and with the Navy’s underwater demolition teams. He had be come jump, scuba and Ranger qualified.
Ripley said, “Endurance: We confuse this with fitness … but mental endurance is like an extra bandolier. … You lock and load and keep going.”
More about the Memorial to Company L, 3d Battalion, Third Marine Regiment gathered at Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., to dedicate the “CAPTAIN J. W. RIPLEY LIMA CO RVN-1967” Memorial, honor their fallen comrades and remember their commanding officer.
Thank you Leatherneck Magazine and Mr. Keene.
Semper Fi Dad
Explorer- filmmaker James Cameron became the first person to dive solo into the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, the deepest place on Earth. He completed the dive the night of 25 March, Eastern Daylight Time, off Guam. In light of his feat, we thought it appropriate to post an interview done for Naval History magazine in 2000 with Dr. Don Walsh, one of the two men who beat Cameron to it more than 52 years ago.
Fred L. Schultz
From Naval History Magazine, April 2000
In January 1960, he and Swiss copilot Jacques Piccard navigated the U.S. Navy’s bathyscaphe Trieste into the Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the World Ocean. At nearly seven miles, the record still stands. Retired U.S. Navy Captain Walsh also was a member of Operation Deep Freeze in 1971, spending more than a month on the ice in Antarctica and earning recognition for his contributions there by having an Antarctic mountain ridge named for him. Today, Captain Walsh is president of International Maritime, Inc., an Oregon-based consulting company that has completed projects in 20 nations. He is one of 20 living Honorary Members of the Explorers Club, an Honorary Life Member of the Adventurers Club, and a Fellow of England’s Royal Geographic Society. Captain Walsh is a 1954 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and earned Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Oceanography from Texas A&M University and a second Master’s degree from California State University in San Diego. A technical advisor for such films as Gray Lady Down, Raise the Titanic, The Hunt for Red October, and The Abyss, Captain Walsh is scheduled to lead an expedition in April 2000 to HMS Breadalbane, the world’s northernmost shipwreck, 350 feet beneath the ice off Beechey Island in the Canadian Arctic. He spoke recently about a variety of topics to Naval History Editor Fred L. Schultz.
Naval History: In a Naval History interview a few years ago, Jean-Michel Cousteau referred to you as the Buzz Aldrin of the ocean. What do you think he meant by that?
Captain Walsh: I’ve known the Cousteau family for many years. I know Jean-Michel well. I’ve been a guest in the Cousteau home. We go way back, so I believe that was a compliment and not a complaint.
Naval History: We thought he might have meant that Jacques Piccard received more of the credit for your expedition to the Challenger Deep, comparing you to Aldrin and Piccard to Neil Armstrong.
Captain Walsh: Well, it’s a tad nationalistic. Europeans tend to favor the European, and Americans tend to favor the American. I think that’s just human nature. The Piccards, of course, are a dynasty. I don’t think any family in the history of exploration has had three generations who, essentially, all established world records. Auguste, of course, was a great balloonist. He was basically a physicist, but he set the world altitude record in the early 1930s in a balloon. And, of course, his son Jacques was with me in the Trieste. And now Jacques’s son Bertrand is the first man to fly a balloon around the world.
So they’re a dynasty of explorers and scientists in Europe, and, understandably, the press treatment would probably favor them. I don’t think it’s any kind of a deliberate spin; it’s just the way people see the news and report it. It doesn’t trouble me.
Naval History: What was it like competing against the space program at the time?
Captain Walsh: It was pretty tough, because the advent of the space program came at just about the time we brought the Trieste to the United States. We and this inner spaceship we had didn’t even enjoy a year of primacy. NASA already was off and running. The Navy’s entire undersea program has lived in the shadow of the space program. Of course, our project seemed to be under wraps from the beginning.
I remember presenting the program to Admiral Arleigh Burke. Of course, the Navy doesn’t require lieutenants to go the Chief of Naval Operations to get approval for programs, but nobody wanted to make the decision. I kept getting handed up the chain until one day I ended up in front of Admiral Burke.
So I briefed him on the program. And he said, “How many of you are in this thing?”
And I replied, “It’s just myself and Piccard.”
Then he said, “Are there any other Navy people associated?”
And I said, “There’s Lieutenant Larry Shumaker, who’s the assistant officer in charge. He’ll be in charge of the topside aspects.”
The Admiral then said, “Well, if this thing doesn’t come back up, you tell Shumaker that you’re the lucky one, because I’m going to have his lower appendages.” Arleigh Burke said what he meant and meant what he said. So I got the approval from him, but he put a condition on it. He said, “There’ll be no publicity, none at all.” I looked at him in surprise, because if we were successful, this was going to be quite a coup for the Navy.
“The science guys and the research and development engineers in the Navy,” he said, “have been promising me spectacular things. We were going to put up the first earth-orbiting satellite.” They had lit off a rocket at Cape Canaveral, and it shot into the ocean rather than into space. So Admiral Burke said that he didn’t want any more of these promised science spectaculars that turn out to fizzle. “If you do it successfully,” he said, “then we’ll have the publicity. But until then, just keep your mouth shut and go do it.”
So we didn’t really have a ramp-up to this great event. There was no general knowledge of what we were doing. Although Life, National Geographic, and improbably, The London Daily Mail got a whiff of it, the Navy’s Chief of Information bought their silence by saying they could go on the trip but they couldn’t tell anybody. And they didn’t. Does Macy’s tell Gimball’s? They were inside, and the door was shut. They essentially had scoops. And so, off we went to Guam. That was good coverage.
The London Daily Mail had a wonderful foreign correspondent, Noel Barber. He was out of the trench coat-Lowell Thomas school. When the Dalai Lama came out, Barber hired horses and rode a hundred miles into Tibet to greet him and get the scoop. He was a wonderful raconteur. During the evenings in Guam, when we’d all go out for dinner, we didn’t talk about the Trieste, we sat around and listened to the reporters tell stories about their adventures. It was great fun.
Naval History: Were you at all trepidatious before your dive in the Marianas Trench to the Challenger Deep?
Captain Walsh: No. People say, “Well, you’re just being modest.” And my wife says I’ve got a lot to be modest about. But the fact is, the whole strategy of the testing of the Bathyscaph, over nearly a year, was to make increasingly deeper test dives. When we got it, it was configured for only 20,000-foot diving depths. We had to reengineer it, enlarge it, and buy a new cabin for it, to be able to go to 36,000 feet. And so we did a few test dives in San Diego, then shipped the whole thing to Guam.
At Guam, we started out at 400 feet in the harbor and worked our way offshore, in increasingly deeper water. And we actually brought the world’s depth record home to the United States in November of 1959, when we made a dive to 18,000 feet. The previous record, of course, was held by the French Navy, at 12,500 feet, which actually is the average depth of the ocean. That was set in 1954. So we captured the record again in 1958, and by early January 1960 we dove to 24,000 feet. Then 12 days later we made the deep dive. It was all incremental.
So I say it was just a longer day at the office, and people think I’m trying to be clever. But that’s the truth. All the manipulations we did to make it dive were the same whether we were diving 1,000 feet or 36,000 feet. And we got to know it intimately. I’d put on a boiler suit, scrape rust inside that tank, and help paint it. Everybody turned to. We were a small team—only 14 people. And we worked seven days a week, dawn to dusk, at Guam. You build a certain confidence in your equipment.
Let’s get this list going.
As an observation and a nod, not a criticism (of course) of our Vice President Joe Biden – who observed that, “You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan. Never knowing for certain. We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there.”
Because this will be a list, compiled into one blog post, whatever you put in the comments (respectfully and to the point of the post) we will incorporate into the post – then delete. Please submit your comments to us here or via firstname.lastname@example.org or give us your submissions via Twitter or Facebook . And when the first 500 hits it, [UPDATE]: WE WILL MAKE A BRACKET COMPETITION.
Give us your best of the best who were audacious – winners or losers – those who dared. We will update the list daily, no repeats – so dig deep when your favorite has already been mentioned.
Listed in order of submission and raw commentary (and without attribution and to protect the innocent):
500. SEAL mission per Vice President Joe Biden: Audacious on the part of our Commander in Chief, President Obama.
499. Japanese attack on Pearl was an Orange/Blue war-gamer exercise 6 or 7 years before 1941.
498. Entebbe, anyone? Or one might even argue that the raid on Bin Laden’s compound would not have been possible without the lessons learned from the even more audacious (if ultimately unsuccessful) plan of Operation Eagle Claw.
497. Lets start early. 1519 Hernan Cortez landed 600 Spaniards and about a dozen horses at Cozumel. He BURNED HIS SHIPS so there was no way to escape, and he and his men had to fight to the death. He led his men to destroy the entire Aztec Empire something that no invader had done in over 6 centuries. In the process he actually convinced the Aztecs that he was THEIR GOD.
496. Henry V at Agincourt – Nope, too early.
496. (Do-over) ”Kedging“- How USS Constitution Sailors evaded 170 guns of HMS Africa, Shannon, Belvidera & Aeolus!
Dare I say George Washington before the Battle of Trenton? Christmas Day 1776.
George Washington Crosses the Delaware in the dark of night to attack the British in Trenton.
For me there is one and only one #1. Without it an army driffs away, an idea dies, a piece of paper signed at the greatest personal risk becomes meaningless. General George Washington’s decision to attack Trenton on the morning after Christmas 1776 with a night march of impossible proportions couples not only audaciousness, but the greatest risk. For me it is the single most important moment without even a close second in American history, and for the idea of freedom as the world knows it today, possibly. My own telling here: http://
494, Eben Emael and the raid to free Mussolini
493. CDR “Red” Ramage, USS Parche, Pacific, 1944: as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Parche http://
492. Col Robin Olds, Operation BOLO Mig Sweep, North Vietnam, 1967 http://user.icx.net/
491. Doolittle Raid Doolittle Raid, 1942…(while a japanese radio broadcast stated, almost to the moment of the attack, how Japan would never be attacked, with air raid sirens suddenly going off-a “baghdad bob” moment)…which in turn, caused grave consternation, and thus triggered rash action by the Imperial Japanese Navy, resulting in catastrophic loss at Midway, with which they would lose their offensive initiative for the remainder of the war…despite efforts to regain it at Guadalcanal and others.
490. Admiral David Farragut leads his ships into Mobile Bay, 1864. Approaching the mine field laid by the Confederates the USS Tecumseh (first in the battle line) hit a mine and exploded, shocking the entire fleet. The USS Brooklyn stopped dead in the water, and the Captain asked the Admiral for instructions. Farragut ordered his ship, the Hartford, to steam around the Brooklyn and take the lead, signaling his forces “Damn the Torpedoes…Full speed ahead!” The entire column of 14 ships passed safely through the mine field and took Mobile.
489. April 22, 1778. At 11 p.m. on this day in 1778, Commander John Paul Jones leads a small detachment of two boats from his ship, the USS Ranger, to raid the shallow port at Whitehaven, England, where, by his own account, 400 British merchant ships are anchored.
488. Captain Charles Stewart of USS Constitution taking on two warships simultaneously in February 1815.
487. Though unsuccessful, Desert One was audacious.
486. How USS Constitution Sailors evaded 170 guns of HMS Africa, Shannon, Belvidera & Aeolus!
485. Berlin Airlift
482. Market Garden (for a not-so-successful example)
481.Camp Century Greenland, 1959-1966.http://
480. Manstein Plan, France 1940 (replaced the original von Schlieffen plan), bait the allies into the low countries, cut them in half, and take the entire region in 6 weeks.
479. 1588, english channel, England vs Spain. English ships, more maneuverable, chipped away at the snds of the Spanish Armada’s ships (arranged in an arcing format) instead of taking them head-on. Forced the Spanish ships into disorder, and over a few days, whittled them down to near-insignificance…forc
Audacious to say the least.
478. 1970, USAF and Army Special operations crash land an HH-3 helicopter in the middle of the Son Tay prison complex in North Vietnam in an attempt to rescue 65 American POWs. The operation is carried out perfectly, but the prisoners were moved a few months earlier to different accommodations.
477. Operation Dynamo, the “miracle of Dunkirk” in WW2
476. Battle of the River Plate, 1939. One of the greatest psyche-outs in naval annals. Spee literally pulverized UK’s Ajax, Achillies(NZ), and Exeter. One’s fire control was out, another’s main gunnery was out, the third was mauled but intact. GS was also damaged, and thinking the UKs 3 were still coming after him (most would’ve broke off by then), he made for Montevideo…where he was told to leave within 72hours. GS was relatively intact, despite some damage, and could have re-engaged. Thinking there were more heavies coming (via the radio traffic of the 3, who remained, even though they would have been cut to pieces had the GS came out to face them), Capt Langsdorf scuttled the Graf Spee without a battle. 3 days later he shot himself. Sheer audacity, and well executed…using nothing but guile.(the truly genius strategist finds ways to war without battle-Sun Tzu)
475. The bayonet charge of Joshua Chamberlain on July 2, 1863 at Little Round Top during the Gettysburg battle.
474. Bridge at Dong Ha
473. 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood
472. June 1995 rescue of Scott O’Grady
471. Battle of the Bulge, with the Germans scraping up enough armor, soldiers and fuel to give the US and Allied Armies a real good scare
470. USS ENGLAND taking the bull by the horns, and sinking 6 Japanese subs in less than 2 weeks.
More information here
I mourn the passing of a great naval aviator, a professional analyst of all things naval, and a soulful and compelling writer of poetry and prose.
Ray Mabus, SecNav
On behalf of the entire membership of the U.S. Naval Institute, our hearts and prayers go out to the LeFon family.
Carroll LeFon, Neptunus Lex, was a respected naval aviator who achieved warrior poet status for his excellent writing and writing style. He truly embodied the attributes of, “read, think, speak and write,” …central to our U.S. Naval Institute mission. He was a valued member of the Naval Institute, joining forces with us in 1986.
At the appropriate time we will discuss publishing the RHYTHMS manuscript – as several have suggested – with Lex’s family.
Again, we extend our sincere condolences from all of us at USNI. He will be missed.
VADM Peter H. Daly, USN (Ret.)
CEO, U.S. Naval Institute
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