View Full Version : It's what you share, not what you know

08-18-04, 02:51 PM
It's what you share, not what you know
Published Tue, Jul 13, 2004

Gazette staff writer
Parris Island is more than just a place where Marine drill instructors train recruits, as far as John Ripley is concerned.
For the retired Marine Corps colonel and Vietnam War hero, the depot was the start of it all.

It was the place where he learned to set goals and how to always strive to do the right thing. It was the place that molded him into the man he is today.

The extraordinary base, he said, is a symbol of all that is good in America.

"It can't be verbalized," he said with a smile last week, sitting inside the depot's Four Winds Club, nearly 47 years after arriving there as a recruit.

"Parris Island has such a phenomenally emotional, almost passionate part in the feelings of every Marine," Ripley said.

There are elements of fear and apprehension, of course, he said, remembering the first time he set foot on the historic depot. But more than anything else, Parris Island breeds respect.

"Coming back to Parris Island evokes a feeling of reverence," Ripley said. "There's something almost mystical that takes place here that almost can't be explained."

Ripley returned to Parris Island last week to give a pair of professional military education seminars to the base's Marines, one to officers and a second to staff noncommissioned officers.

With 35 distinguished years of active-duty service under his belt, Ripley imparted some of his vast knowledge on the Marine leaders of the current generation.

Much of that knowledge, he said before speaking to the noncommissioned officers, came directly from his three months training aboard Parris Island.

"Every single thing that I have ever done has been influenced in a very positive way right back to the three months I spent here," Ripley said. "Even my children have told me that."

About 100 Marines filled the Four Winds last Thursday to soak up some of what Ripley has learned in his career. When this legendary Marine speaks, everyone listens.

"I'm not gonna try to explain to you the colonel's bio," Sgt. Maj. Robert C. Hollings told the Marines gathered there before Ripley spoke. "There's probably not anything the colonel hasn't done in the Marine Corps."

Ripley graduated from Marine Corps training at Parris Island in 1957 and served for a year before entering the U.S. Naval Academy. As an officer, he served bravely in Vietnam, was wounded in action and took his place among the Marine Corps' immortals.

On Easter of 1972, Ripley, then a captain, was at Dong Ha in Vietnam as the North Vietnamese planned a massive invasion. Under enemy fire, Ripley almost single-handedly rigged explosives to the Dong Ha Bridge across the Cua Viet River. He was wounded in action, but destroyed a major route to the South and weakened some of the momentum of the North's offensive.

For his heroics, Ripley was awarded the nation's second highest honor, the Navy Cross, and inspired the John G. Miller book, "The Bridge at Dong Ha."

In addition to the prestigious Navy Cross, Ripley's awards include 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, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Vietnamese Distinguished Service Order and the Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star.

But Ripley, who serves as the Director of Marine Corps History and Museums and Director of the Marine Corps Historical Center, would rather focus on Marines who don't get so much attention.

While it's easy to pick out and name Marines who reached a certain level of notoriety, there are many more Marines that no one knows who have done just as much, he said.

It's those Marines who contribute so much to the historical center and keep the legacy of the Corps alive, he said.

"These Marines we have are the garden variety, everyday graduates of recruit training who went off to serve in the Marine Corps and eventually left the Marine Corps and then became a tremendous success in every walk of life you can imagine," Ripley said, pride evident in his voice.

Helping out with the historical center is a simple way for those Marines to say "thank you" to the Corps for all it gave them, Ripley said.

"He can show his very real and very substantial appreciation for where he is in life because of all the Marine Corps did for him, particularly right here."