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.
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