During his Air Force career, Smyrna's Len Rippa served the United States in many capacities. The Air Force implemented one of his ideas for the recovery of John Glenn's space capsule, with which Rippa was directly involved.
Len Rippa of Smyrna, lauded as a man whose life had wings, was inducted posthumously into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame Oct. 28 at the University of Delaware’s Clayton Hall.
During his Air Force career, Rippa served the United States in many capacities, according to the press release from the Aviation Hall of Fame. The Air Force implemented one of his ideas for the recovery of John Glenn's space capsule, with which Rippa was directly involved. Among his many awards and decorations, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross while participating in a rescue of a downed aviator in Vietnam in 1968. He continued to serve his country following his retirement from the Air Force and served on Smyrna Town Council and as vice mayor.
He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors in 2010.
At the funeral service, the chaplain said, “Len Rippa had wings. As a navigator, he wore wings on his uniform. But his life had wings. His life soared. He had wings for our nation, serving in uniform for 27-and-a-half years.”
He served at the end of World War II in the Coast Guard and then enlisted in the Air Force in 1950, retiring in 1975. He served as a navigator on C-130 transport planes and later as a personnel staff officer. He served overseas tours in Libya, Iceland and Vietnam.
“His life soared in civilian life as well,” said the chaplain, highlighting Rippa’s service as director of administration for the Defense Manpower Commission, as confidential assistant to the administrator of the General Services Administration, his work with the National Taxpayers’ Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and in Smyrna on town council, as vice mayor, and in tireless efforts to revitalize the town’s historic district and renovate the Opera House.
“Len had wings in his personal life,” said the chaplain, “in his love for his family, for his beloved wife, Lil, and for his children, Paul, Paula, Glenn and Gayle and for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Rippa’s wife, Lillian, attended the Aviation Hall of Fame ceremony to accept Len’s plaque and medallion from DAHF President Bruce Lambrecht, who also honored fellow 2017 inductees: Raymon Firmani, Sharon Forbes, Caroline DuPont Prickett, Hans Reigle and Edward Scully.
Lillian said the induction was very special “because Len was a humble man who did not talk about his many accomplishments,” she said. “Friends and family did not know all that he did. I even found a couple [accomplishments] I did not know about. Len would have been very proud of this honor.”
The suggestion for the Hall of Fame came from someone who was visiting Lillian at her home, who saw many of Len’s Air Force medals and photos of the John Glenn Capsule recovery and the Gemini/Apollo manned space program. Lillian completed a form about all of his accomplishments for the nomination and rounded it out with his work after the Air Force that was also relevant.
“Michael Brock, a Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame inductee was my ‘wing man’ and helped me all through the process after Len’s acceptance,” said Lillian.
Broke spoke about Len at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Lillian said she was honored be able to share and celebrate Len’s career achievements which will be recorded for future generations to see in the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame Archives.
“I was moved to see and hear from all the inductees and their ‘wingmen’ about the special contributions they made in their careers,” she said. “I was so proud that Len was part of this contribution.”
The State of Delaware, represented by Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long, presented tributes from the governor to each inductee. Lillian also received a tribute to Len from the Delaware House of Representatives, sponsored by State Rep. Bill Carson.
The Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame was established to honor the state’s aviation greats and to promote public recognition of the role of flight in the progress of The First State and in defense of the country.