Col. John W. Ripley: A Hero Hollywood Will Never Mention

May 24, 2020

Mediocrity and egoism are engrained in the modern world. Heroism, self-sacrifice, and honor are often unwelcome and seldom given the admiration they deserve. After all, we are taught that comfort, security, and personal advancement come first. How many men are willing to go beyond the call of duty for an ideal greater than themselves?

America is blessed with heroes, but you rarely hear much about them. One such hero, and one of America’s greatest Marines, was Colonel John W. Ripley (1939-2008).

A distinguished combat commander of the Vietnam War, Colonel Ripley served on the front lines. On one occasion, hovering above the jungle in a helicopter, enemy fire ripped through the floor and wounded him. The impact of the bullet was so strong that it almost knocked him out of the open helicopter. He managed to stop falling only by grabbing the seat-belt of the pilot, who nearly choked from the unexpected tension around his neck!

His most famous military achievement was the destruction of an important bridge at Dong Ha, in Northern South Vietnam. At the onset of the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive, the enemy counted on using the bridge to invade. Without food and sleep for three days, his energy was sapped, yet he knew he had to blow up that bridge.

When human strength failed, he recited a rhythmic drill prayer over and over: “Jesus, Mary, get me there!” His prayers were answered. Under intense fire, Col. Ripley climbed through razor wire, and single-handedly placed explosives which successfully blew up the bridge.

I had the immense privilege to be part of a group of TFP members who met Col. Ripley at his home only a few years before his death. When talking to the hero of Dong Ha, we were inspired by his chivalrous virtues of leadership in adversity and unpretentiousness in peace. Despite age and battle scars, he projected an impression of youthful enthusiasm and innocence which Our Lord praised in the Gospels: “Unless you be as innocent children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

He was a role model who fought for what was right. He admired the qualities of other men. During TFP Student Action’s visit, he praised the British Royal Marines and the Royal Gurkha Rifles. He was also an admirer of General “Stonewall” Jackson.

Colonel John Walter Ripley (USMC)

To those who are good, our hero is kind and chivalrous. To the enemy, his is terrible and unrelenting. He was combative on the battlefield as well as in the realm of ideas. He firmly believed that war is for men, and that women should be spared its horrors. Doing the military and women a great service, he testified in Congress against women in the military, and publicly debated this subject on many occasions. He was the hero of Dong Ha and the courageous marine who was unafraid to defend politically incorrect ideas.

Colonel Ripley was a Catholic gentleman and did not hesitate to admit that he was assisted by Our Lord and Our Lady in blowing up the bridge. When TFP Student Action presented a rosary to him, he said, “These beads will not collect dust! Believe me!”

Hearing stories of true heroes is refreshing in a world of mediocrity and indifference. He lived for values that were higher than himself. His valor and heroism will always be admired and appreciated. America should thank God that He blessed her with men like Colonel Ripley and pray fervently that He sends many more like him.


The preceding article was published at on March 10, 2006. It has been updated for readability.

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