AN AMERICAN KNIGHT: THE LIFE OF COLONEL JOHN W. RIPLEY, USMC
By Norman J. Fulkerson
Tradition, Family and Property, $14.95, 208 pages, illustrated
Reviewed by Brett M. Decker
Listening to the liberal media, it’s easy to think that all America’s gener- als and admirals want to torpedo the ban on open homosexuals serving in the military. At times, there is a revolving door on the Pentagon’s closet, with some of the brass putting fingers in the air to test which way the winds are blowing.
While politicized officers might try to curry favor with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats by assuming the liberal position in favor of ending the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, 1,164 flag and general officers have signed a petition informing President Obama that, “Our past experience as military leaders leads us to be greatly concerned about the impact of repeal [of the law] on morale, discipline, unit cohesion and overall military readiness.”
The extraordinary open letter by so many respected military leaders, which has been shepherded by the Center for Military Readiness, isn’t surprising to most Americans, who know those serving in uniform are among the most forthright in America, a few media darlings aside. However, in our morally confused age, officers who defend traditional values tend to be the ones kept in the Pentagon closet rather than those with less normal views. Despite this political pressure, most warriors espouse a very conservative ideology. One of them speaks to us from the grave.
The late Col. John W. Ripley is a Marine Corps legend for his many heroic stands in combat, in congressional hearings and in life. In “An American Knight,” first-time author Norman J. Fulkerson does a masterful job recounting not only what this great man did, but why he did it and how he became who he was. In short, with a few exceptions aside, great men aren’t born - they are formed. John Ripley benefited from the example of a strict family upbringing and the influence of an ascendant American culture that was unabashed in its encouragement of the eternal verities of God, family and country. In the Ripley household, religion wasn’t only for women and wimps, and the whole family knelt to pray the Rosary together every day.
It was this faith that would fortify the tough Marine during his toughest trials. His most celebrated feat was on Easter Sunday 1972 in Vietnam, where he singlehandedly blew up the Dong Ha bridge to halt a communist advance along the main transportation artery into South Vietnam. For more than three hours, he climbed the superstructure of the bridge, swinging from steel girders like monkey bars to place explosives and detonators under the main supports. He scaled the bridge over a dozen times, taking heavy fire the whole time, to accomplish the mission and thwart the enemy.
In the years after combat duty, Col. Ripley served in many roles, including stints working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as an instructor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and even as president of the Southern Seminary, an all-woman’s college. As the years passed, the Marine’s Marine feared that America was endangered by another leftist threat: political correctness. During the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, he again answered the call, publicly arguing against admission of girls into the Virginia Military Institute and against women in combat. It was his belief that these positions were in defense of ladies and femininity, especially by trying to protect them from abuse. “If we see women as equals on the battlefield, you can be absolutely certain that the enemy does not see them as equals,” Col. Ripley said. “The minute a woman is captured, she is no longer a POW, she is a victim and an easy prey … someone upon whom they can satisfy themselves and their desires.”
Mr. Fulkerson explains that, “While Americans appreciate the warrior spirit of someone like him, we admire much more a person who is not afraid to tell the truth.” That’s why “An American Knight” is not only an interesting book for military buffs but offers inspiring reading for anyone looking for noble examples amidst modern amorality. On the night of Oct. 28, 2008, this Marine met his maker. But while Col. Ripley is dead, his legend lives on. If you listen closely to the din of contemporary political-military debates, the voice of Ripley echoes.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times.