'HOLD AND DIE'
LEGENDARY MARINE PASSES
Yesterday was All Saints Day on the Christian Calendar. As far as the U.S. MILITARY is concerned,
John Ripley is fully qualified for Sainthood.
Marine, rest on your sword and shield.
/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.
"Hold and Die" – Legendary Marine Passes On
W. Thomas Smith, Jr
COL. JOHN W. RIPLEY, U.S. MARINE CORPS (ret.), recipient of the Navy Cross and for years one of my personal heroes, has passed away.
Ripley, 69, was awarded the Navy Cross – the nation's second-highest award for valor in combat – for single-handedly blowing up the
Dong Ha Bridge in Vietnam, thus blunting the North Vietnamese Army's Easter Offensive on April 2, 1972.
The enemy was attacking in great strength – huge numbers of infantry, tanks, artillery – and Ripley's little force was ordered to "hold and die."
Dying would be easy. But the only way to hold was to blow the bridge spanning the Dong Ha River. And, as Ripley said, he was "the Marine
there to do it."
Then a 33-year-old captain, Ripley accomplished his task by dangling from the bridge's I-beams, climbing along the length of the bridge
hand-over-hand, his body weighted down with explosives, the enemy shooting at him, desperately trying to kill the lone Marine hanging
beneath the bridge.
In a June 16, 2008 interview for Marine Corps Times, Ripley said "I had to swing like a trapeze artist in a circus and leap over the
other I-beam... 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."
Ripley set the charges and moved back to the friendly side of the river, all the while under heavy fire.
When the timed-fuses detonated, Ripley – running for his life on the road leading away from the bridge – was literally blown through the
air by the massive shockwave he had engineered. The next thing he remembered, he was lying on his back as huge pieces of the bridge were
hurtling and cartwheeling across the sky above him.
In an interview for Americans at War (U.S. Naval Institute), Ripley said, "The idea that I would be able to even finish the job before the
enemy got me was ludicrous. When you know you're not gonna make it, a wonderful thing happens: You stop being cluttered by the feeling that
you're going to save your butt."
A Virginia native, Ripley served in the Marine Corps for 35 years: He commanded three Marine infantry platoons (one rifle, one weapons, one
reconnaissance), three rifle companies, a British Royal Marine Commando company (which operated alongside Gurkha infantry in Malaya), a U.S. Marine
rifle battalion and a Marine infantry regiment. He also held a variety of other posts from professor to university president. He directed the
Marine Corps' History and Museums Division. He testified before Congress on the dynamics and rigors of combat. And a Forward Operating Base in
Afghanistan was named for him.
In addition to being one of the Corps greatest heroes and a legend among midshipmen at Annapolis (his alma mater), this year Ripley became
the first Marine inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
Incidentally, a signed copy of Col. Charles H. Waterhouse's painting depicting Ripley's exploits at the Dong Ha Bridge hangs in my office
as a reminder that – as we read in Philippians – "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Considering the lives saved and the superhuman feat performed under intense enemy fire at Dong Ha, I believe Col. Ripley's Navy Cross should
have been – and should be – upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
/s/ LeRoy Collins, Jr.