Almost exactly thirty-eight years ago, during the height of the Vietnam War, over 200,000 North Vietnamese troops were preparing mount a massive, three-pronged assault into South Vietnam as part of the Nguyen Hue Offensive – also known as the Easter Offensive. The plan was to attack at three points: eastward from Cambodia toward Saigon; into the central highlands of South Vietnam in an effort to cut the country in half; and the main thrust coming from the demilitarized zone in the north.
When the attack came, American and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam – the regular army of South Vietnam) forces were surprised and unprepared.
It was under these conditions that one Marine advisor confronted his fears and built a legacy. His actions would stop a major offensive dead in its tracks and cement his place in history.
Marine Captain John Ripley, an American advisor for a small force of ARVN regulars, had been sent near the demilitarized zone to the small village of Dong Ha, where a massive, American-built bridge spanned the Cua Viet River. Facing him and 700 South Vietnamese troops were over 20,000 People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) regulars, accompanied by heavy artillery and tanks. Their orders: “Stand and Die.” Hold at all costs.
The only alternative was to destroy the bridge and deny the PAVN the ability to continue southward. Ripley asked for explosives and literally took matters into is own hands. For three agonizing hours he climbed hand-over-hand under the bridge – and over the swift river – to place 500 pounds of explosives in the structure. He was under fire the entire time.
Rather than explain the ordeal further, I’ll let Col. Ripley tell the story himself.
His feat has been immortalized at the Naval Academy, his alma mater, where he was the first Marine to be named a Distinguished Graduate. He is also in the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
He died at home in 2008.
What can one man do? Plenty, if he has the will to do it. Col. John W. Ripley – a Marine’s Marine – is our hero of the week.