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 wouldnt
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.
Shown from left to right the five Ryan brothers are:
Karl Ryan, US Army; Glenn, US Navy; John, US Air Force; Dee,
US Air Force, and Bill, US Navy. (Photos provided by the Ryan
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 familys 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 didnt 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
When given the opportunity I always say Thanks for
your service, and that is meant for all veterans past and