- Captain John Ripley, USMC (1972)
In early 1972 and arriving for his second tour of duty in Vietnam, Marine Captain John Ripley found the country far different than during his last tour of duty as a rifle platoon leader in 1967-68. American combat units were no longer operating in the country since being pulled out as part of the plan to fully Vietnamese the ground operation. Navy ships still patrolled the waters and flight missions were still operational but on a smaller scale and Ripley found himself assigned as an advisor to a battalion of Vietnamese Marines, seven hundred strong. He found these soldiers to be the cream of the crop and his counterpart, Major Le Ba Bihn, was an excellent officer and a highly decorated one and the two men quickly developed a close working relationship. This would prove to be very important very soon as the unit was ordered to Dong Ha on the Cua Viet River with the mission of keeping advancing North Vietnam forces from crossing the river on the way to Saigon. The assault on Saigon was beginning and the North had every reason to believe that without the strong American ground forces, they could successfully end the war. Over twenty-five thousand regular North Vietnamese troops would be crossing the bridge with some two hundred tanks as well. Major Bihn's Marines were tasked with taking out the bridge. His small force of Marines were huge underdogs and could get no air support, but Bihn and his advisor, Ripley, came up with a seemingly impossible plan to accomplish their mission.
Captain Ripley was well trained in demolition and it was decided that with Bihn's Marines fighting hard to hold their positions and giving Ripley cover, he could somehow place explosives under the bridge while the enemy was held on the north bank of the river. It was difficult for the American Marine to traverse largely open ground to the bridge, yet somehow the brave South Vietnamese Marines provided the cover necessary and kept the enemy from reaching the bridge for the three hours necessary for Ripley to place the charges. The bridge was destroyed, the North Vietnamese advance stopped and was turned around with many casualties, and it would take three full years to accomplish their mission which they thought would be over soon. Bihn's unit was nearly decimated but accomplished their mission and Bihn would himself when the fall eventually came spend eleven years in a Communist prison but would eventually be allowed to come to America and become a citizen. Captain Ripley lived to be a career Marine, rising to the rank of Colonel and becoming the first Marine to become a recipient of the Distinguished Graduate award from his alma mater, the Naval Academy, the highest award the academy can give to a former Midshipman. Many years after the two men worked so bravely together, they were reunited and stayed good friends until Ripley's death in 2008.
So, why would I use this story on Father's Day? What is the lesson that applies to the duty of a father in raising a child? Quite simply put, it's because of the quotation which then Captain Ripley used to explain why he did what he did, "sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand" and the way the Marine lived his life. You see, Captain Ripley served in his dangerous assignment while missing his wife and his young daughter back home. And like every good father, getting home to those loved ones was so important to him that he would do whatever it took to both successfully complete his mission and get home again. He was a man of faith and he knew that only full success would allow him to return home, that otherwise he would have quickly become just another gruesome statistic from war and that only with God's help could he do the seemingly impossible. He prayed for himself and Major Bihn and his brave Marines and God answered his prayers and his actions serve to tell any father something that is not war related but is also very important to fulfilling the task of being a good father.
Again, I repeat the quotation, "sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand." As a father, a man must instill good moral values and godly virtues in their children to prepare them to face a world that is in many ways so jaded. And while it would be easy to just surrender our values and take the easy way out, if we did so our children would be of very little value to God and his mission for them. God gave each of us a purpose, and in the case of a father, it's to prepare a child to live a good life and honor God in all that we do and, in this world today, that definitely requires each of us to "draw a line in the sand" regarding what we will expect of our children which should govern the way we raise them. Now that is never easy, but it is what is expected by Him. And so, in raising your children, fathers, will you draw your line in the sand as to what is acceptable and not? If you do, and you instill it for all the right reasons, a child will learn a way to live that will come back to him or her, even if they falter along the way. If you don't, well, the result will not be one that is likely to be very admirable at all. And that's why I chose the heroics of John Ripley for the baseline of this Fathers Day commentary. I hope you find these words valuable and worthwhile. Happy Fathers Day, everyone.