It is one thing to study history and it's quite another to have lived it. John J. (Pat) Ryan, a retired USAF lieutenant colonel has done just that. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1920, he grew up during the Great Depression. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Pat applied for and was accepted into the U.S. Army Aviation Cadet program. To fly had been his lifelong dream and WWII gave him his chance to make it come true. He was one of the blessed ones that survived combat in WWII, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and the Berlin Airlift.
His story starts at a time when aircraft and autos were scarce, family radios and television were non-existent, movies were silent and in black and white. During the Great Depression many families had to learn to do more with less to survive. For some people, WWII created jobs in both civilian and military areas. The fortunate ones were those who survived and didn't lose too many family members and friends. Pat was one of the lucky ones.
It was in Japan on loan to the CIA where he met his wife-to-be, Mae, during the Korean War. She had been in the OSS in Italy in WWII and at the post-war Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. They had started to write a book of their lives but Mae was stricken with terminal cancer and passed away only five days after she gave final approval to her publisher. The book is entitled A Woman Ahead of Her Time. The Last Mission completes the dream Ryan shared with his wife, and it brings home the lessons of war and humanity, of responsibility and faith, of family and love.
Come fly as his co-pilot through a life of adventures, struggles, victories and defeats as he tries to live his life as truly, honestly and fully as any man can.
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THE LAST MISSIONA VOYAGE THROUGH HISTORY AS REMEMBERED
By JOHN J. "PAT" RYAN
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 John J. "Pat" Ryan
All right reserved.
Chapter One13 October, 1920-1941 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Early Years
My earliest recollections are as a very small child growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the early 1920s. I remember one of my greatest delights was opening the doors of a kitchen cabinet and dragging out all the pots and pans and lids onto the floor. The big attraction was the capability it gave me to make noise – and I did.
I also remember a big round oak table in the kitchen. It was a pedestal table with lions' claws clutching balls for the base. Another fixture in the house was a big German shepherd named Baldorf. For some reason – probably to keep him out of the rest of the house – he was tethered to the oak table. I also remember someone coming into the house and Baldorf going after that person, pulling the table over and narrowly missing me. It's strange how some events stick in your mind to be clearly recalled years later.
I can still see myself sitting on the floor in the kitchen playing with some cardboard cutouts of Indians, teepees, log cabins, trees, and canoes, and then looking up to see a strange face and letting out a scream. The stranger turned out to be an inmate from the Allegheny County Farm at Polk, a nephew of my step-grandfather.
This area of Pittsburgh was called Bloomfield, a section which had been settled by German émigrés, probably starting in the 1830s. In the 1920s, most of the people who lived there were of German descent. German was spoken everywhere – in the schools (where English was taught as a second language), in the churches (where the sermons were delivered in German), and in the shops. My mother was of German descent and my father was of Irish descent, born and raised in Greenfield, a section of Pittsburgh settled by the Irish.
We lived on Sciota Street on the corner of Millvale Avenue, and my grandmother 'Masie' and my Aunt Ida lived a few houses away on the same street. My grandmother had been widowed with four grown daughters and elected to remarry. The stepfather was never really accepted by the girls and I have no clear recollection of why. I cannot recall even seeing any pictures of him.
My grandmother was a large, imposing woman who seemed to me to always be in control of the situation – but aren't all grandmothers? We had a mutual love affair. I would sit for hours as a pre-school tot at a large round table in her dining room, over which hung a stained glass chandelier, and I'd play cards with her and my Aunt Ida. We would play the usual children's games like Old Maid and Go Fish but they soon got me into the old German games like Euchre, Skat, and 500. Occasionally, we would be joined by some of my grandmother's friends. I would show them no mercy at the card table (either that or they would let me win).
I was the youngest of four children. The eldest, William, had died in the influenza epidemic of 1919 before I was born. My two sisters were one and one-half and four years older than I. Our house in Bloomfield was a two-story duplex, with the landlord living upstairs. The two families shared a bathroom in the landlord's apartment. There was a toilet in the basement. The dominant feature of the basement was a large coal furnace with hot air ducts running out from the air chamber in all directions and slanting up through the ceiling to hot air registers in the floors of the apartments above.
Adults walking through the basement had to duck down under the ducts. There were white-washed walls and a concrete floor that slanted down to a drain in the center. Many families of spiders wove webs in every nook and cranny. It was a place where a three-year old boy would much prefer the company of an adult. On those times when I would venture into the perpetual dusk alone, it was with great trepidation as I could see fearsome things lurking in the shadows. The weak grey light which filtered through the soot-encrusted windows did little to identify the creatures which were rushing at me (which turned out to be clothing hanging on lines to dry).
Daily visitors were the huckster with his wagon loaded with fruits and vegetables, and the iceman with his tongs and a pad of burlap on his shoulder. He would chip out a 25 or 50 pound block of ice and carry it in to fit into our icebox. The icebox was wooden, metal-lined and had several doors and a drain pipe and pan to catch the water from the melting ice. The pan had to be emptied periodically, lest it would overflow or become too full to empty without spilling. There was also the milkman, the bread man, and the store delivery people. Of these trucks and horse drawn wagons, none were more impressive than Kaufmann's Department Store. They had large yellow and black flat-bed trucks, electric powered, with solid rubber tired wheels. The underside of the truck bed held racks upon racks of batteries.
One very special visitor was someone I could never forget – Old Man Usmann, the junk man. He rode down the street in his horse drawn wagon calling, "Rags, old iron, rags." He had a barn down Millvale Avenue, a couple of blocks away. It was a big, black wooden structure stuffed full of things that Mr. Usmann had collected. One night, the barn caught on fire and the people watching saw things go up in flames that belonged to them – some of which they swore had been stolen. In the present day world of antiques, Mr. Usmann's collection, had it survived, would have been worth a fortune.
Up on Liberty Avenue, a few blocks away, was St. Joseph's Church where we went to Sunday mass. My mother and her sisters had been baptized there and also had gone through school there. Very often the sermons were in German and as I mentioned earlier, most of the shopkeepers were German. A visit to the butcher would get you a wiener or a slice of bologna. The baker would always give you a cookie. A dozen was always thirteen – the Baker's Dozen.
About a block down the street from our house was my favorite store. It was a little candy shop where my sisters would take me with my pennies or a nickel tightly clenched in my hand or tied in a corner of my hankie. As we opened the door, a bell would announce our presence and the proprietor or his wife, who lived in rooms behind the shop, would come out to greet us. Selection of candy was an exquisitely agonizing process. We would start at one end of the glass counter and ask what each of the many pieces of candy were and how many we could get for a penny. We could never make our choices on the first trip down the display case and we would have to go back and make sure that we understood that this one was three for a penny and that one was five for a penny. They had such things as Wine Cups which were capsules filled with colored sugar water, Peanut Bolsters which were peanut butter-filled honey logs coated with chocolate, Pinwheels which were caramel and sugar rolls, Frying Pans which were aluminum pans filled with colored and flavored sugar which could later be used as doll toys, Necco Wafers which were hard, colored and flavored sugar wafers, and Chicken Corn, Licorice Whips, and Jelly Beans. Add Jawbreakers, Suckers and many more varieties and you can understand that a trip to the candy store could never be properly done in less than thirty minutes. My sisters constantly pressured me into buying whatever they wanted with my money. They were very adept at convincing me that 'this' was the kind that 'I' liked best.
Our back porch looked out over Millvale Avenue and in good weather it was my perch where I could play and keep out of trouble. One day, for some unknown reason, my sister Jeanne and I got into a hassle as to who would take out the garbage. The battle took place on the wooden stairs leading down into the backyard. I must have been on the downside when I won because the garbage and I went tumbling down the stairs and landed in a heap at the bottom. Jeanne let out a shriek and started to cry which impeded her feeble efforts to inform my mother that she was alright – but she wasn't too sure about me since the garbage and I were still lying at the bottom of the stairs.
The back porch was also the scene of another crisis in my life. At the corner of Millvale and Liberty Avenues stood the firehouse, on top of which was a cupola from where a siren would wail out its message when a fire was reported. On this day as I played on the porch, the siren screamed and I ran to see the doors of the firehouse fly open and out charged a team of three huge grey horses pulling a pumper. In those days, a pumper was a huge nickel steel coal fire-powered machine from which flame and smoke shot toward the skies. The rig came clattering down the cobblestone street in a cloud of steam, smoke, fire, cinders and noise. The bells clanged, the siren shrieked and this little kid, standing on his back porch looking over the rail, wet his pants and let out a yell.
"Whee! Look at that son-of-a-bitch go!" Before the last word came out, my mouth was full of soap and my bottom was red. You know? At times mothers just don't understand.
I remember a great fascination with the Wild West – cowboys and Indians – and the U.S. Cavalry. My Uncle Jesse had been a cavalry man in the First Division during WWI, known at that time as 'The Great War'. He had ridden across the Mexican border chasing after Poncho Villa and the Mexican bandits who had raided American border towns. I would sit for hours and listen to his stories, usually dressed in my Indian suit replete with feathered headdress. The greatest thrill was when Buffalo Bill Cody brought his Wild West Show to Pittsburgh. Uncle Jesse took me to see the show and I sat in the grandstand, enthralled while cowboys in the stagecoach being pulled by six horses fought off the bandits and the covered wagon train whipped into a circle. The pioneers fought off attacks by wild howling Indians who raced at breakneck speed on their pinto ponies around the wagons, shooting and being fired upon. There were longhorn cattle being roped, bulls and bucking broncos being ridden by cowboys, and Indians doing their war dances. There was everything a four-year old could want.
The next most exciting event was the annual Armistice Day Parade. The veterans in uniform marched behind waving flags, where bands played, and there was my Uncle Jesse – riding on a horse-drawn caisson, arms folded, not even hanging on. An honest-to-God 75 mm cannon was attached to the caisson. People lined the parade route and cheered as the veterans marched past. This was only a few years after the American doughboys went 'over there' to save the French, beat the Huns and 'Make the World Safe for Democracy'. The War to End All Wars. America was fiercely proud of her boys who returned as conquering heroes.
For all my years of childhood and adolescence, there was no way I had any possibility of knowing that by the time I had graduated from high school, the name of that war would be changed from the 'Great War' to 'World War I' since World War II had begun in 1938. And I had no inkling that I would be an active participant not only in WWII but also in the Korean War and the Viet Nam War.
* * *
My grandmother's house had electricity on the first floor but upstairs there were gas lights that gave off a sharp intense brightness that curiously enough did not spread like an electric light bulb, but instead left many, spooky corners in the room populated by dancing shadows. Under each bed was a chamber pot, which I used reluctantly when I stayed there. I could readily identify with the old poem,
Who took me from my warm, warm cot
And put me on that cold, cold pot
And made me go whether I wanted to or not
I stayed with my grandma when my sisters got chicken pox, measles, and scarlet fever, because in those days the Board of Health quarantined your house and no one could leave until they got a clean bill of health from the Board. My mother remained with my sisters and I stayed with my grandmother until they were cleared. My Aunt Ida would take me down to our house daily where I could stand outside and talk with my mother up through an open window. I remember wishing that I, too, had scarlet fever so I could be home with my mother instead of standing out on the sidewalk.
There was a big cast iron stove in my grandmother's kitchen that seemed to go constantly and required hauling coal in and ashes out, which were dumped in the far reaches of the backyard to be sprinkled on the icy sidewalks in the winter.
The sink had a lead-covered drain board and a hand-crank water pump. I loved to crank the pump and see the crystal clear, ice cold water come spurting out. There was an enamel cup (gray, I think) hanging on a hook near the pump for common use.
The backyard was long and narrow, bounded by a high wooden fence. There was a rain barrel under a downspout to catch rainwater which was used for hair washing among other things. There was also a slanted wooden cellar door which when opened revealed stone stairs leading down to the basement door. All houses there had basements which were rock-walled and painted with whitewash.
In the spring, summer and early fall, the bright sunlight slanted down through the old maple trees out front that lined the street. It etched bright pools of light on the gray slate of the sidewalk. In some places the sidewalks were cracked and tilted by time and tree roots. Here and there on level stretches, the smooth grey surface was marked by chalk into hopscotch games in the hands of children. Between the sidewalk and the granite curbs, the black earth was devoid of grass in places and smoothed down carefully to provide an arena for marble games.
Occasionally, the marble game being played by two little boys of about four or five years old, dressed in short pants, sweaters, high black stockings and wearing high-laced shoes, would be interrupted by the emergence on the street of two little old ladies from their narrow, three-story red brick house. They'd cross the sidewalk and enter their electric car parked at the curb. The car was a square steel and glass box with black and brass trim, which sat on four large wooden-spoked wheels with narrow hard rubber tires. The windows were trimmed with white lace curtains and the seats were grey plush. The carpeted floor was reached through a door on the right side by stepping up from the curb onto a wrought iron stirrup and then into the car. The car was steered by a large tiller which turned the front wheels. Transverse steel leaf springs, very similar to what would be found on a buggy, carried the body of the car over two hard axles. The batteries were slung on racks under the body.
After closing the door and seating themselves, one of the ladies would firmly grasp the power switch and the tiller, apply power, and the electric car would trundle slowly away from the curb over the cobblestone street from under the shade of the huge maples and into the bright sunlight of Millvale Avenue where it merged with the traffic.
It vied for running room with horse-drawn grocery and bakery wagons, icemen with wagons and trucks, street cars running on steel rails and overhead trolleys, and a sprinkling of automobiles. This was the early 1920s and although the motor age was upon us, we still had vestiges of the past where people grouped in city and neighborhood cores for mutual support, ease of communication and ethnic solidarity. They used forms of transportation now found only in museums. Then, horses still played an important role even in the large cities.
Excerpted from THE LAST MISSION by JOHN J. "PAT" RYAN Copyright © 2011 by John J. "Pat" Ryan. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: 13 October 1920-1941, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania The Early Years....................1
Chapter 2: 1941-1943, United States Aviation Cadet ? Navigator (2nd Lt.)....................37
Chapter 3: 1943-1944, England 388th Bomb Group ? B-17 ? WWII ? Navigator (1st Lt.)....................63
Chapter 4: 1945-1947, United States Post WWII ? Personnel Officer ? Adjutant ? Maintenance Officer....................98
Chapter 5: 1947-1948, United States Pilot Training....................130
Chapter 6: 1948-1950, United States/Germany Berlin Airlift ? ATC ? MATS (Captain)....................156
Chapter 7: 1950-1952, Korea/Taiwan/Japan/Hong Kong/Philippines CIA ? Mae Ness....................196
Chapter 8: 1952-1956, United States/England Air Resupply ? Communications Wing ? Wedding (Major)....................282
Chapter 9: 1956-1958, England Mae Ness Ryan ? Timothy J. Ryan ? 3rd Air Force Headquarters....................352
Chapter 10: 1959-1961, Texas 19th LSS ? C-124 ? Nuclear Weapons....................372
Chapter 11: 1961-1966, Germany Asst. Air Attaché (Lt. Colonel)....................386
Chapter 12: 1966-1972, McChord AFB, Washington/Viet Nam 62nd MAW ? C-141 ? Squadron Commander ? Chief Air Lift Command Post ? Retirement....................401
Chapter 13: 1972-1990, Tacoma, Washington Years of Retirement ? Good Will Industries ? Kiwanis ? 388th Bomb Group Association....................408
Chapter 14: 1990-Present, Melbourne, Florida Indian River Colony Club ? Retirement Home ? Painting ? Writing ? Kiwanis ? Terrific Kids Program ? Barbershop Singer ? Golf ? Mae's Death ? Mae's Book....................436