JOHN WALTER RIPLEY, USMC
John Walter Ripley was born on 29 June 1939 in Radford, Virginia. Graduating June 1957 from Radford High School, he enlisted for one year in the Marine Corps before entering the United States Naval Academy, obtaining an appointment from the Secretary of the Navy. On 6 June 1962, he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in electrical engineering and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Upon completion of Basic School, 2dLt Ripley was assigned Sea Duty with the Marine Detachment, USS Independence and was promoted to first lieutenant on 6 December 1963. Afterwards he joined 2d Battalion, 2d Marines, commanding a Rifle, then Weapons platoon. In May 1965, 1stLt Ripley was transferred to 2d Force Reconnaissance Company where he completed Airborne, Scuba, Ranger, and Jumpmaster courses, then deployed overseas with his platoon. He was promoted to captain 21 June 1966.
In October 1966, Capt Ripley joined the 3d Battalion, 3d Marines, just below the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in the northern sector of South Vietnam, I Corps. Commanding “Lima” Company for a year, Capt Ripley saw much action in the famous “Leatherneck Square” area (Dong Ha, Con Tien, Khe Sanh). He was wounded in action while commanding “Lima” Company on 2 March 1967, but returned to action later in March to complete his tour.
Following his tour in Vietnam, he attended Amphibious Warfare School and on completion of the course, became the Infantry Officers Monitor, Headquarters, Marine Corps. In October 1969, Capt Ripley was selected to serve as the Exchange Officer to the British Royal Marines. He attended the Marine Commando Course at Lympstone, England, then served in Singapore with the 3rd Commando Brigade and with 40 Commando in northern Malaya, campaigning for several months with the famous Gurkha rifles. Capt Ripley also served with the Special Boat Service (3rd SBS) and with “Zulu” Company Group in north Norway. Taking command of “Yankee” Company, they deployed throughout England, Scotland and Wales. He then returned to Norway for his second winter to complete the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Course at Elvegardsmoon. He also completed the Joint Warfare Course at Old Sarum, England.
Captain Ripley returned to Vietnam in 1971 and served as Senior Advisor to the 3rd Vietnamese Marine Battalion, which operated along the DMZ. He was at Dong Ha with his battalion during the 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Invasion. It was during this invasion that Capt Ripley heroically performed the action at the Dong Ha Bridge, for which he was awarded the nation’s second highest honor, the Navy Cross (read his citation).
Returning from Vietnam in 1972, Capt Ripley was promoted to major on 1 June 1972 and became the Marine Officer Instructor at Oregon State University. In 1975 he attended American University in Washington, D.C. in the Advanced Degree program, earning a Master of Science. Upon completion of his degree, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Marine Corps, serving in Special Projects Directorate then later as the Administrative Assistant/Aide to the Chief of Staff. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 9 March 1979.
Lieutenant Colonel Ripley next commanded 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, from July 1979 to May 1981. During this time they deployed for Combined Arms Exercise 2-80, then to the Mountain Warfare Training Center. In January 1981, the battalion deployed to Norway, becoming the first unit of its kind to conduct Arctic Warfare Training and winter operations there.
Upon completion of his tour with the 2d Marines, LtCol Ripley attended Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, graduating in 1982. He then reported to the Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff, serving as Political-Military Planner and Branch Chief, European Division, J-5. He was promoted to colonel on 1 July 1984.
Colonel Ripley was next assigned to the U.S. Naval Academy where he served as Senior Marine and Director, Division of English and History from 1984-1987. During this period he established a record of commissioning more than 500 Academy midshipmen into the Marine Corps. Col Ripley next spent a year as Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, with 3d Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan.
In July 1988, Col Ripley assumed command of the 2d Marine Regiment, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The 2d Marines deployed twice as a regiment to Norway. Upon leaving the regiment, he commanded the Navy-Marine Corps ROTC at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Lexington, Virginia. During his time at VMI, Col Ripley created the largest, most productive NROTC unit in the country.
Following his retirement in July 1992, Col Ripley became President of Southern Virginia College in Buena Vista, Virginia. While there he was credited with saving the financially troubled college. After turning the College over to new management, Col Ripley was asked to remain as Chancellor in order to assist and supervise the conversion of the College into a coeducational, four-year institution. Upon successful completion of this goal, he received resolutions and citations from the Trustees, the City of Buena Vista, and the Office of the Governor.
In 1997, Col Ripley assumed the responsibilities as President, Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. While serving in this capacity, he shored up parental confidence in the program of instruction, refocused the financial plan on infrastructure improvement, dormitory and classroom modernization, updated curricula to include additional offerings, thereby enhancing the overall program, and established innovative sources of revenue through positive change and sound management practices.
In June 1999, Col Ripley was personally selected by the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Terrence R. Dake, to serve as the Director of Marine Corps History and Museums Division. Accepting, he returned to government service in July 1999 and served in this position until August 2005.
Colonel Ripley has been elected to Phi Alpha Theta, a history honorary, and to Who’s Who Worldwide. He also holds the distinction of having commissioned the most officers in the Marine Corps. During his two years of Vietnam service, he participated in 26 major operations, which included numerous battles at the Rifle Company, Battalion and Division level. He and one other Marine share the distinction of more combat experience at the Rifle Company and Battalion level than any other active duty Marine. His exploits are the subject of or mentioned in over 20 books and he lectured widely on combat leadership, performance in adversity and the value of humanities, classics, and liberal arts. He was in high demand as a motivational speaker and participated in numerous national seminars. His testimony before Congress, a Presidential Commission and numerous writings have been entered into the Congressional Record.
In 2002, Col Ripley became the very first Marine officer to receive the “Distinguished Graduate Award,” the highest and most prestigious award given by the Naval Academy. In June 2008, he also became the only Marine to be inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.
Colonel Ripley passed away on 28 October 2008 and was laid to rest in the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery, Annapolis, Maryland.
Colonel Ripley earned six valorous and fourteen personal decorations including the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two awards of the Legion of Merit, two awards of the Bronze Star with Combat “V,” the Purple Heart, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Navy Unit Citation, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Vietnamese Distinguished Service Order and the Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star.
Colonel Ripley’s heroic action at the Dong Ha Bridge was selected as a single act to memorialize the actions of all Naval Academy graduates during the entire Vietnam War. In Memorial Hall at The Academy, a large diorama titled “Ripley at The Bridge” represents the noble and gallant actions of all Naval Academy men who fought in Vietnam.