The 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan” could have been about five DeKalb brothers named Ryan who fought for the country – all but one in World War II. The movie plot loosely was based on real events and told the story of one family who lost three sons, while the fourth was being sought so he wouldn’t also die in the war.
This story starts with Glen and Eva Ryan, who had 14 children, some of them born before the family moved here from Kentucky. Of those siblings, five were boys and nine were girls. Only three are alive today: Karl Ryan and his sisters, Barbara Haile and Ilene Sanders. I heard the story of their military service from Karl and Barbara.
When World War II broke out, three brothers – John, plus twins, Bill and Dee, all left DeKalb High School to enlist, not concerned about graduating.
Bill “Butchie” joined the U.S. Navy, serving aboard the USS Pennsylvania. When the ship was torpedoed while anchored off Okinawa, he was injured, and later died from cancer, which his brother thinks was related to his being wounded. Dee was in the Air Army Forces serving as a tail gunner and crew chief on B-29 bombers, stationed primarily on Saipan in the Pacific Theater. Brother Glen Ryan Jr. served in the Navy as a seaman 1st class. He was on a ship near the Marshall Islands during the atomic bomb tests in 1946 and ’47, located only 7 miles from the detonations. A fourth brother, John, was an Army Air Forces military policeman, serving in the China-Burma-India Theater. He contracted hepatitis in that tropical region and died overseas. At the family’s request his body was exhumed and returned to be buried in Fairview Cemetery in DeKalb.
The much younger brother, Karl, entered the service in the Army Signal Corps during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He said he was fortunate to complete his tour of duty just before his unit was sent to Florida as the first strike force headed for Cuba. The crisis between the U.S. and Soviet Union was averted, so they didn’t have to complete their mission.
Being about 25 years younger than his oldest sibling, Karl, now 81, said he never got to know his older brothers. He was 13th of the 14 children in the family, all of them born at home. He did remember his mom was a Gold Star Mother, but she died when he was only 6. He said that since his siblings were much older, his father was able to raise him and the other children with the help of his older sisters.
I had to ask his sister, Barbara, if she was ever confused with the famous TV actress Barbara Hale, who also had roots in DeKalb. She said not really, but one time at General Electric where she worked, the company had a special recognition for people whose names were similar to those of famous people and she and a Robert Young were singled out. By the way, Barbara was the 10th of 14 Ryan children.
So on Veterans Day this Saturday, probably no other DeKalb family can be prouder or claim as many sacrifices as the real Ryans.
When given the opportunity I always say “Thanks for your service,” and that is meant for all veterans past and present.