Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. William (Billy) Ryan was shot down over Laos in 1969. Now, After almost 50 years, the remains of an Lt. Ryan are headed back to the United States.
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Ryan served as a Marine radar intercept officer in an F-4 Phantom. He’s been listed as missing for almost 48. His remains were identified last year by the Defense Pow/MIA Accounting Agency at the Pentagon.
The Bergen Record reports that DNA was used to positively identify Ryan.
Ryan was flying a combat mission in southern Laos when he was shot down on May 11, 1969. It was the day before his son’s first birthday.
“I always knew my dad died in the crash, and that’s what my mom told me,” Michael Ryan, now 48, told the paper. “What she didn’t tell me is that part of her held out hope that maybe she’d see his face again.”
Ryan and his pilot were on a bombing run when they were hit by enemy fire. The pilot ejected and was rescued. Ryan didn’t make it.
Investigators knew where the plane went down, and found Ryan’s seat in 1990. For the next 25 years, the agency searched the area for Ryan’s remains. Their efforts were hampered by the weather and terrain. Yet the big problem was the bureaucracy.
The crash occurred on the border of Laos and Vietnam. Researchers were admitted to the crash site, but for short periods of time–about 45 days each time. The remote crash site required large logistical support teams, including 300 locals and dozens of forensic scientists.
Last month, their efforts paid off. Ryan’s remains were identified. The news comes at an awkward time, though. The Bergen Record reported that Judith, Ryan’s widow, was diagnosed with stage-4 stomach cancer the day after she learned of the positive identification.
“I don’t know, it’s strange to me,” Michael told the paper. “We’ve waited 48 years for this. And now I’m looking up at God and saying, ‘Can you give this woman a week to celebrate?’”
Ryan will be interned at Arlington National Cemetery on May 10th. The United States listed 1,300 soldiers as missing in action fro the Vietnam War. An additional 1,200 were killed but there remains were never recovered.