John Ripley was born on June 29, 1939, in Keystone, West Virginia. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on June 21, 1957, and was honorably discharged to enter the U.S. Naval Academy on June 29, 1958. Ripley graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a commission as a 2d Lt in the Marine Corps on June 6, 1962, and after completing The Basic School at MCS Quantico, Virginia, he served with the Marine Detachment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVA-62) from February 1963 to January 1964. His next assignment was with the 2nd Marine Division and the 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from February 1964 to August 1966, followed by service with the 3rd Marine Division in South Vietnam from October 1966 to November 1967. After completing Amphibious Warfare School, Capt Ripley served with Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps in the Pentagon from August 1968 to September 1969, and then was an exchange officer with the British Royal Marines from October 1969 to May 1971. His next assignment was as an Advisor with Naval Forces Vietnam from July 1971 to May 1972, followed by service with the Navy ROTC detachment at Oregon State University from June 1972 to July 1975. Maj Ripley was a student at the University of Washington, D.C., from July 1975 to December 1976, and then served at Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps from December 1976 to May 1979. His next assignment was with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune from June 1979 to July 1981, followed by Naval War College from July 1981 to June 1982. Col Ripley served with Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps from June 1982 to July 1984, and then served at the U.S. Naval Academy from July 1984 to June 1987. His next assignment was with III Marine Amphibious Force on Okinawa, from June 1987 to July 1988, followed by service with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune from July 1988 to July 1990. Col Ripley's final assignment was as commander of the Navy ROTC detachment at the Virginia Military Institute from July 1990 until his retirement from the Marine Corps on July 1, 1992. He was the first Marine officer to receive the Distinguished Graduate Award from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2002, and he became the first Marine to be inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame in 2008. John Ripley died on October 28, 2008, and was buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery.
His Navy Cross Citation reads:
For extraordinary heroism on 2 April 1972 while serving as the Senior Marine Advisor to the Third Vietnamese Marine Corps Infantry Battalion in the Republic of Vietnam. Upon receipt of a report that a rapidly moving, mechanized, North Vietnamese army force, estimated at reinforced divisional strength, was attacking south along Route #1, the Third Vietnamese Marine Infantry Battalion was positioned to defend a key village and the surrounding area. It became imperative that a vital river bridge be destroyed if the overall security of the northern provinces of Military Region One was to be maintained. Advancing to the bridge to personally supervise this most dangerous but vitally important assignment, Captain Ripley located a large amount of explosives which had been pre-positioned there earlier, access to which was blocked by a chain-link fence. In order to reposition the approximately 500 pounds of explosives, Captain Ripley was obliged to reach up and hand-walk along the beams while his body dangled beneath the bridge. On five separate occasions, in the face of constant enemy fire, he moved to points along the bridge and, with the aid of another advisor who pushed the explosives to him, securely emplaced them. He then detonated the charges and destroyed the bridge, thereby stopping the enemy assault. By his heroic actions and extraordinary courage, Captain Ripley undoubtedly was instrumental in saving an untold number of lives. His inspiring efforts reflected great credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the United States Naval Service.