The Bridge At Dong Ha Essay

An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC

2010 Gold Medal Winner, Military Writers Society of America

This first cradle-to-grave biography of Colonel John W. Ripley provides readers with the complete story about a great man who is considered by Marines, such as General Carl Mundy, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, to be on the same level as legends Chesty Puller and Dan Daly.

Colonel Ripley is most commonly known for his heroics in Vietnam during the Easter Offensive of 1972, where Colonel Gerald Turley ordered him to “hold and die,” in the face of over 30,000 North Vietnamese and 200 enemy tanks. John Ripley proceeded to blow the Dong Ha bridge, preventing the enemy from crossing. He unhesitatingly obeyed and earned the nation’s second highest honor, the Navy Cross.

As stunning as the Dong Ha story is, there was much more to Colonel John Ripley.  An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John W. Ripley, USMC narrates his early life and the influences which shaped his personality.

In youth, he was a rambunctious “Huckleberry Finn” who spent his days getting into all kinds of mischief in Radford, Virginia. The stories from this time period, so well narrated in An American Knight, will leave the reader with at least a smile, if not a laugh.

After his mischievous “Huckleberry Finn” days in Radford, he learned to discipline his wild side and, in spite of his intellectual weaknesses, went on to graduate from the Naval Academy. The strength of will with which he accomplished this task was later applied on the battlefield, where he earned the status of legend during his first tour in Vietnam as a 28-year-old Captain.

Readers will also get to know about John Ripley, the father, but more importantly the chaste husband. When he was approached by people wanting to make a movie about his life he agreed as long as his character was not portrayed as having a romantic relationship in Vietnam. “I have never been,” he said, “nor will I ever be unfaithful to my wife.”

This was one of the motivating factors which led him to give a brilliant testimony before congress against sending women into combat. He could not conceive of women being subjected to the harsh realities of war and spoke out strongly against it.

An American Knight also narrates his courageous stands against homosexuals in the military. He saw their admittance as “a deviation from values that Marines hold dear and one which attacked their very honor.”

The final chapters narrate the struggle Colonel Ripley endured with a bad liver. He would finally undergo two liver transplants, the last one of which was defined as the “most dramatic” in history.

“If a young officer or Marine ever asks what is the meaning of Semper Fidelis” Colonel Ripley once told a friend, “tell them my story.”

This is his story!

Order your copy of An American Knight now by clicking here.

Col. John Ripley’s description of the destruction of Dong Ha Bridge – Part 1

Col. John Ripley’s description of the destruction of Dong Ha Bridge – Part 2

Some of you know that I’m a former Marine.  Since today is the Marine Corps Birthday I thought it is appropriate to share my weekend review of a story involving an incredible Marine that is part of the Marine Corps cherished heritage.

John Grider Miller. The Bridge At Dong Ha.  Annapolis, Maryland: U.S. Naval Institute Press, March 15th 1989. 224 pp.

4 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon

This book tells the story of the Marine legend John W. Ripley.  I have heard the name “Ripley” before as a Marine, and some vague summary of him blowing up a bridge to stop invading North Vietnamese communist forces during the last years of the Vietnam War.  Recently I saw something on facebook about Ripley that sparked my interests to read more about Ripley and this book was what I picked up to learn more about Ripley and the famous incident with the bridge at Dong Ha.  It was a treat for me to read this book.  I was blown away (pun intended) with what Ripley accomplished against overwhelming odds.  His story is one of courage, commitment and mission above self.

If you are looking for more of a biography of Ripley you won’t find it here.  Instead this book focuses on the events leading up to the mission to blow up the bridge to deny the North Vietnamese forces the ability invade South Vietnam with tanks and other weapons platform.  The book is military operational history but with narration that includes Ripley’s thoughts during that time.

Early in the book the author situated the mission in the context of where the war was at during that time in 1972.  This was a time when most American combat units were departing Vietnam and John Ripley was one of the few American advisors to South Vietnamese forces.  Ripley was specifically attached to the South Vietnamese Marines and I thought the book did a good job of letting readers know just how dedicated and good the specific outfit was.  Contrary to the myth not all South Vietnamese military units was bad.  Led by Major Binh this particular Marine Battalion has been battle tested and displayed incredible valor and combat effectiveness.  Just two company of Marine infantry and a few tanks stood in the way of the massive North Vietnamese forces which consisted of 30,000 men and over 200 tanks.  To make the situation worst many regular South Vietnamese army units was deserting en massed.  Ripley then made the decision to rig over 500 pounds of explosives to a massive bridge in a mission that took over three hours.  Ripley had to climb below the bridge all the while being exposed to the enemy attacks.  It is an incredible story of guts and resolve.

While it is a story of intense courage nevertheless the book also portray a human side to the conflict in Vietnam.  The descriptions of the Vietnamese refugees fleeing the fighting shows the keen eye Ripley has for the suffering civilians.  There’s also the story of Ripley delayed calling in Naval bombardment upon the enemy only when he knew an injured women with her two children were no longer in the vicinity.  These moments in the book made me realized that Ripley is the example of what General Mattis describe Marines as: No better a friend, no worst an enemy.

The book also has a few sketches throughout the book that definitely helps readers to get a better imagination of what was happening.  The map in the beginning of the book was also helpful as it situates where the story was taking place and also what was going on in the surrounding areas.  Overall an incredible read.

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Posted in Book Review, John Ripley, Marine Corps, Marines, Veteran's Day, Vietnam War | Tagged book review, John Ripley, Marine Corps, Marines, Veteran's Day, Vietnam War | 10 Comments

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