The Brave American Soldier Who Manually Bit Down on Blasting Caps to Single-Handedly Halt Vietnamese Assault

Yana Bostongirl

John Walter Ripley, a United States Marine Corps Colonel, was one of the few U.S. advisors to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC) in Vietnam in 1972 when he was ordered to carry out an important mission that resulted in him hampering a major assault by the Viet Cong.

At that time the 3rd VNMC had been tasked with preventing the Viet Cong from crossing the strategic Dong Ha Bridge over the Cua Viet River.

It was Easter Sunday in 1972 when Ripley, one of the few U.S. advisors to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC) left in Vietnam, received news from Army Maj. James Smock, advisor to the 20th Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Tank Battalion that they had been given the authorization to blow up the bridge to Dong Ha City.

Upon arriving at the bridge, Ripley realized that the explosives needed to be carefully placed under the bridge to get the desired results as this excerpt explains: "To do this, Ripley first had to clear a fence of concertina wire. He then began an agonizing series of hand-over-hand maneuvers to place the charged bundles under the bridge. In order to stagger the alignment of the demolitions, Ripley had to crawl back and forth between the widely separated beams. As each channel was mined, he had to drop down from one beam and swing over the other."

According to John Grider Miller, author of “The Bridge at Dong Ha, Ripley had to manually bite down on the blasting caps in order to attach them to the fuses: “He had to bite down on the blasting caps to attach them to the fuses. If he bit too low on the blasting cap, it could come loose; if he bit too high, it could blow his head apart.”

Ripley was able to complete the mission and even though the shockwave from the explosion of the bridge tossed him in the air, he was not hurt. As a result of his actions, the Viet Cong suffered a significant setback in their offensive.

He was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroic efforts in combat.

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