Shining-hearted, blood-and-guts tale of Marine Corps captain John Ripley's heroic demolition of a strategic bridge on Easter Sunday, 1972, in Vietnam. Miller, a former Marine who also served in Vietnam, pays tribute to Ripley's incredible exploit with souped-up sentiment but also with impressively tight moment-to-moment psychic and physical detailing—no doubt enhanced by the acknowledged full cooperation of Ripley, now a Marine colonel at Camp Lejene, N.C. A relatively slow opening sets up the dramatic stage and principal players, all tough as nails and male-super-glued to each other: ARVN Major Le Ba Birth; his bodyguard Three Finger Jack, who demonstrates loyalty to Binh by lopping off that fourth digit; US Army major Jim Smock; and Birth's advisor, Ripley—elite product of American Marine, Airborne, Ranger, and Seal training, and British Royal Marine polishing. Their mission: to keep 30,000 NVA troops and 200 tanks from crossing south on a Seabees-built-to-last steel-and-timber bridge spanning the Cua Vier River—and does the narrative fly once Ripley tackles the job. Under near-constant enemy fire, he, aided by Smock, drags TNT to the bridge, climbs up, crawls in and around razor wire that slashes him to a blood mess, hand-walks beams, crimps explosive detonators with his teeth, and sets charges. And after he crawls back to safety, he decides to do it all over again to place back-up electric detonators. And after he at last dashes back behind friendly lines, he charges out again into the middle of mortar fire to save a dazed little girl. A spirited, if square-jawed and occasionally simplistic, account that does Ripley honor and that may appeal intensely to many real-life and armchair warriors.
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