William “Billy” C. Ryan, Jr. was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1944. Soon after, his family moved to Bogota where he grew up. He attended St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, where he was an all-star athlete. He was the quarterback of the football team, pitcher and shortstop on the baseball team, and point guard on the basketball team. For his athletic prowess, William earned the nickname “Rhino,” despite standing at 5’9″ and weighing a very wiry 160 pounds.
After high school, William attended St. Francis College in Pennsylvania, where he majored in French. It was there that he met his future wife, Judith Ann Woosley. After graduating in May 1966, they got married. In August 1966, Mr. Ryan joined the United States Marine Corps. A quiet, shy, but confident William signed up for one of the most dangerous jobs in the military, serving as a radar intercept officer on the F-4 Phantom.
After two years of intense training, he deployed to Vietnam in August 1968. William was assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Force 115, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, a unit nicknamed the Death Rattlers. Once he arrived in Da Nang province his work never stopped. He often flew multiple missions a day, racking up 300 missions in a 9 month period. On January 12, 1969, William was shot down for the first time after his F-4 Phantom was hit by enemy fire. Luckily, both he and the pilot ejected over the South China Sea and were picked up by a rescue helicopter. William returned to the air almost immediately.
On his last mission before he was due to go on leave in Hawaii and see his wife, his F-4 Phantom was hit by enemy fire while pulling out of a bombing pass. The pilot lost control of the aircraft and called several times for Lt. Ryan, but received no response prior to ejecting. Other pilots reported that they saw just one parachute open; the pilot had ejected, but William apparently had not. The aircraft crashed near the village of Ban Alang Noi, in southern Laos. The location of the crash site precluded a search and recovery effort. On May 11, 1969, Ryan was declared killed in action.
In 1980, the Midtown Bridge connecting Hackensack and Bogota was renamed the Lt. William C. Ryan Memorial Bridge in his honor. From January 1990 until May 2012, joint teams from the United States and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic interviewed witnesses and gathered information about the crash site.
From May 2012 until January 2016, joint teams made six trips to complete an excavation of the crash site. During the excavation, they found possible human remains, which were sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency on February 17, 2016. In 2017, the remains were identified as being Lt. Ryan using dental comparisons and isotope analysis.
Subsequently, his remains were returned to his family and Lt. Ryan was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on May 10, 2017. That same year, a rededicating ceremony was held at the Lt. William C. Ryan Memorial Bridge.
We thank Lt. William Ryan and his family for their service and sacrifice, while we know that we can never truly repay them, we can honor his story and make sure his heroism is remembered.
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The Division of Veterans Services was established in 1977 to provide resident veterans and their dependents with information and assistance in obtaining earned entitlements from federal, state, and local governments, as well as any that are available from the private sector.
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