The Navy Cross recipient climbed Mount Suribachi in November 1987, more than 15 years after his heroic destruction of the bridge at Dong Ha during the Vietnam War. To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, we present this poignant letter he wrote then to his friend, Ross Mackenzie. Colonel Ripley is scheduled to revisit Iwo Jima in February 2005 and has agreed to report from the anniversary commemoration there for Naval History.
17 November 1987
From this most unlikely spot I am inspired to write you for reasons I can’t fully explain. Certainly you have received no other letters from here I would wager, and you may find this interesting. It’s the middle of the night—cold, windy, uncomfortable & profoundly moving. I’m looking down on a tiny island three miles wide and five miles long. Down there, and here where I’m writing by flashlight, over 7,000 Marines died. The mountain is Suribachi, the island, Iwo Jima. Of the hundreds of thousands of words written about this place, nothing comes close to describing its starkness, its inestimable cost and now, sadly, the poverty of its abandonment.