Ripcord Association History
The Ripcord Association and newsletter were the brainchild of Chip Collins (B 2/506). After returning from Vietnam and re-starting his life in “TheWorld” Chip found a need to talk to others who served in the Ripcord AO in 1970. Gradually Chip began to make contact with men he served with during Ripcord. By 1983 he was producing a small, irregularly published newsletter in which Ripcord Veterans related their experiences during the Ripcord siege. He soon heard from others and the newsletter grew in size and distribution. By July of 1985 Chip Collins was putting out a newsletter on almost a monthly basis. Soon Bill Heath (A 2/506) assisted Chip by taking over the publishing in 1985 thru 1988. Through the newsletter Chip met John Mihalko of E 2/506 Recon. John and Chip shared a feeling that there was a story that needed to be told and soon enlisted the aid of Jim Fairhall who offered in the 1980’s, to do a book about Ripcord .
Meanwhile other veterans of Ripcord were getting together for reunions in small, scattered groups around the country such as A 2/506, E2/506 Recon, and D 2/501. Chip Collins and John attempted to set up a reunion at Fort Campbell for 1986 but things did not quite jell and there were concerns the Ripcord guys would get lost among the bigger 101st reunion. Finally, later that year, John Mihalko, Chip Collins, Chuck Hawkins and Frank Marshall organized the first official Ripcord Association Reunion with the help of VFW Post 5351 in Whippany, New Jersey. Thirteen veterans from the Ripcord Battle, along with various wives and girl friends, attended. The veterans included Ray Blackman, Fred Behrens, Rick Blyth, Dick Cable, Chip Collins, Jim Fairhall, Chuck Hawkins, Bill Heath, Frank Marshall, John Mihalko, John Sherba, Tom Sheppard and George Westervelt.
Moving along on the wave of success from the first event a second reunion was organized by Chuck Hawkins and held during October 1987 at the Westpark Hotel in Rosslyn, VA outside Washington, DC. General Berry and General Harrison both attended and the highlight of the reunion was a very emotional visit to “The Wall”.
Changes were occurring in the newsletter. By 1987 Chip had Ray “Blackie” Blackman (D2/501) on board as the co-editor with Bill Heath still publishing it. In 1989 Ray assumed the duties of editor as Chip moved onto another stage of life. Late in 1989 Chuck Hawkins (C, A 2/506) assumed the mantle of editor and publisher. In 1994 Frank Marshall (A2/506) assumed the duties of publisher and John Mihalko and Ray Blackman assisted Chuck as Contributing Editors. Try as Ripcord Association members might, the next reunion did not happen until 1995 and finally took place in Golden, Colorado. Again John Mihalko, who had recently moved into the area, organized it.
Since the Colorado reunion the events have become annual affairs with Fred Spaulding going around the country to find suitable hotels that met all our needs.
The next was Fredericksburg, Virginia (1996) with another visit to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Then Mobile, Alabama (1997), Atlantic City, New Jersey (1998), Savanna, Georgia (1999). Shreveport, Louisiana (2000) included a moving dedication ceremony, excellent speakers and a lot of hard work by Jim Campbell and Fred Spaulding.
In the year 2000, Keith Nolan, at the urging of Chuck Hawkins and Sid Berry, whom Keith got to know while writing his first book, Into Laos, took the shared remberances of the Association and put it into book form. “The Siege of Firebase Ripcord”.
The year 2000 also saw the start of the Ripcord Association website www.ripcordassociation.com created and managed by Frank Marshall who is also doing the membership roster.
The next reunion was in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (2001) followed by Colorado Springs, Colorado (2002) and Charleston, South Carolina (2003).
In the Colorado reunion, the “Ripcordettes” (Wives of Ripcord veterans) held their first meeting (without the men). The ladies would hold raffles or auctions of items donated to the Association by the ladies.
Bob and Redd Judd handled all the item sales that were set up at the tables and spent the entire reunion standing selling items. Between the Ripcordettes and the Judds, the reunions were run very smooth and succesful.
In 2003 Lee Widjeskog took over the reigns of running the reunions while Fred still found the locations. Along with Lee’s wife Kathy and the help of the Ripcordettes and the Judds, the reunions were run very smooth and succesful.
The newsletter had another changing of the guard in the Fall of 2003. Frank Marshall has taken the reins of editorship with Lee Widjeskog (A 2/506) as Contributing Editor, Pattie and Gary Radford (D2/506) handling the mailings and Dennis Bloomingdale (B 2/506) taking care of the publishing.
Reunions were taking place every year, Des Moines, Iowa (2004); Indianapolis, IN (2005); Charleston, South Carolina (2006); Sprigfield, MO (2007); Laughlin, NV (2008); Myrtle Beach, SC (2009); Ft Worth, TX (2010).
In 2010, The Ripcord Association started a group on “Facebook” and Anthony Critchlow, Ripcord veteran of HHC 2/506 continues to monitor and update it with over 1,100 followers.
Reunions were held in Indianapolis, IN (2011); Indianapolis, IN (2012); Myrtle Beach, SC (2013).
John Daily produced “Ghosts of Ripcord” a documentary with interviews of Ripcord Veterans, which premiered in Phila In the summer of 2013.
More reunions were held, Myrtle Beach, SC (2014); Sprigfield, MO (2015); Sprigfield, MO (2016); Laughlin, NV (2017); Myrtle Beach, SC (2018); Sprigfield, MO (2019);
Due to the Covid, the 50th Anniversary reunion was cancelled in 2020 and also 2021.
In 2020, Lee Widjeskog took over as Editor and Frank Marshall taking care of the publishing and handling the mailings and membership.
At the present time after the passing of Lee Widjeskog, Bill Heath is the Editor of The Ripcord Report newsletter and Frank Marshall as co-editor doing the publishing and mailings.
The Association has 696 active members, which 545 of the members receive the newsletter by e-mail or our website. Our website has been a large factor in obtaining new members who “google” ripcord and find us. There have been two TV shows that have featured the story of Ripcord, War Stories with Oliver North and National Geographics “Inside the Vietnam War”
However, the best part of the association is remembering friends you made during the tumultuous times of FSB Ripcord and the new ones you discover at the reunions.