Site Meter Ensign Larry Ryan

Naval Aviator

"Ensign Lawrence (Larry) J. Ryan son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ryan of DeWitt, was killed Saturday afternoon (March 23rd, 1968) when the TF9-J Cougar Jet he was flying crashed into the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Corpus Christi, Texas. It is reported that Ensign Ryan’s plane crashed into the water ahead of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington after it was catapulted from the carrier deck in a take-off operation. Ryan ejected from the plane but was unable to free himself from his parachute while in the water. An intensive search was conducted but Ryan’s body was not recovered.

Lawrence Ryan was born in Dewitt on February 25th, 1944 to Joseph L. and Mary McDermott Ryan. He graduated from St. Joseph’s High School and Loras College in Dubuque. He began Navy pilot training at Pensacola Navel Air Station in Florida in 1966 and was later stationed at Kingsville, Texas. On August 12th, 1967 he and Randa Schmidt were married in Anna Marie, Florida.

A Memorial Mass for Ensign Ryan will be celebrated at 11:00 am Saturday in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. A Mass was also celebrated Tuesday in Kingsville, Texas.

Surviving are his wife parents, three brothers, Midshipman Dennis Ryan of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland and Martin and Joseph both at home; three sisters, Mrs. Phil McGrath, Corpus Christi, Texas, Mrs. Allen Dierksen, Chula Vista, California and Teresa at home; maternal grandfather Cleo McDermott and paternal grandfather, Thomas Ryan of Davenport."

The obituary above appeared in the Dewitt Iowa Newspaper on March 29th, 1968. This obituary is really the end of my story of Larry Ryan, which began in September of 1962 at Loras College. Larry and I were both freshmen at Loras College and we both lived in St. Joseph Hall. Larry was good looking and the ladies loved him. I was not good looking and the ladies did not love me. As they say people from opposite backgrounds appear to be drawn to each other. Larry was also very athletic and participated in all types of sports including baseball, basketball and football. I participated in softball on a team called the "Conquerables". We both had a love of flying and a desire to become pilots.

In 1962, Loras College was a Catholic Men's College with a strict code of ethics and a strong honor system. In September of 1962 boys arrived from all over - Nebraska, Chicago, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Loras had a very good reputation for academics. The core courses were based on the belief that a Liberal Arts Degree would give you the ability to be creative and dream up new ideas. We all sat through freshman lectures and heard that one of every two freshman would not make it to graduation and we all wore the Loras Beanies for the first few weeks and we all followed the rules for the first two weeks. By October we were lonely for home, girl friends and family so we became creative and we did dream up new ideas. For next two years we managed to break several rules and have a lot of fun. We never cheated, lied or stole but we chased women, drank too much and played a lot of cards. I should say I chased women, drank too much and played too many card games. Some of the class stood out and were natural leaders. Larry was one of them. Larry normally had the women chasing him and he did not drink that often or play cards that much. He was working almost 30 hours week at 2 or 3 jobs including the Dubuque Packing Plant. He was also on the Dean's List most of the time. Larry joined the Naval Reserve in his freshman year and had accumulated four years of service time before he was accepted into the Naval Aviation Program. Larry was a hard working friend who always managed to be there when I needed someone.

One of my favorite memories was a trip Larry arranged for several of us to ski at Chestnut Mountain in Galena, IL. We had a wonderful time and I even learned how to stand up on skies. It may have been the cold air, or the fun we had skiing, or maybe the friendship we shared after skiing and over dinner but this ski trip has remained as one of my favorite winter experiences.

Larry would later teach me how to ice skate at a local park in Dubuque. I never was and I never will be very good on ice skates but if it hadn't been for Larry, my daughter may not have learned how to ice skate. It is amazing how one small ice skating lesson allows one to teach others the basics. I learned from Larry that the basics of life were the important foundation for anything you did. If you know the basics you could handle anything. You might say Larry gave me a Libral Arts Degree in Life.

During our sophomore year, we all had fun and pulled more than our share of pranks. We all had to be in our room by 11:00 pm with lights out by 12:00 pm. It was not uncommon to have water fights in the dorm just before curfew. One night there had been a huge water fight and we expected two other guys to attack us. We decided to put a pail of water above the door in the transom area with the expectation that the bad guys would open our door expecting to find us asleep or studying and get completely drenched. To our surprise it was Father Barta, who was the Assistant Hall Dean for St. Joseph Hall who entered the room. We received what was called 5.50's for our little prank. A 5.50 was a requirement that we get up early in the morning and walk up the hill to Keane Hall and sign in by 5:50 am. The walk was maybe a quarter of a mile. During an Iowa winter it was not a very pleasant walk. Larry and I each received 10 of these for the little water prank. In fact our friends and classmates may have set a record for the number of 5.50's given to students in St. Joseph Hall in 1963. Clarke College and Mercy Nursing School were the two main sources for contact with girls while we were at Loras. Each Friday night, we would either walk the mile over to Clarke College or the Clarke girls would hike over to Loras. The walk between Loras and Clarke started with a small path through a wooded area that looked like a small forest and was situated on a pretty steep hill. As you approached Clarke you had another steep climb up a hill. The walk would take about 20 to 25 minutes of fast walking but that did not cause us any concern. Once in a while Mercy Nursing School would have a mixer and we would attend it. A few of us including myself dated girls from Dubuque.

Life was good but by the end of our sophomore year over 50% of our friends would be gone. Even Larry decided to attend college in Minnesota for a year. My grades were so poor, I had to work just to stay in school. In September of 1964, I met my wife to be at a Clarke Mixer and after asking her out for 3 dates I was very disappointed when she cancelled all of them. Later she told me that she thought I was being too forceful. In reality, it was probably good for me since I needed to get my grades up.

By September of 1965, I was doing okay in college and several of us decided to get rooms off campus. Larry came back to Loras and moved in with us at 1130 Race St. in Dubuque, Iowa. Don and Karen Hendricks owned the home and gave us the full upstairs plus TV and kitchen privileges downstairs. We had a home at last in Dubuque. Don and Karen became part of our family. Don and Karen trusted all of us and we became baby sitters for their little boy. In appreciation for the home they shared, Larry decided we should fix them a special dinner one night. The meal was fabulous. Don and Karen really liked Larry and Larry really liked them. In the spring of 1966, Larry convinced Don Hendricks to go to college. Don enrolled at Loras in the fall of 1966. The first day we arrived back at Loras in September of 1965 and after we moved into 1130 Race St., we all headed to the Holiday Inn for the luncheon buffet. They had a special at the time and we really took advantage of it. When we got the check they had added on an extra 30% because we were college students. Larry and another roommate, Pat Buckey, really tore into the waitress and the manager. They reduced our bill and we repaid them by never going back and making sure our relatives did not stay at the Holiday Inn in Dubuque. We also told everyone that we knew about the scam. Larry was working 3 different jobs and was so busy, he asked me to take one of the jobs until he had time to handle it. The job was coaching an elementary school football team. I had no idea what I was doing. Lucky for me, I had some students who were gifted athletes and we did okay. When the football season came to an end, Larry was available and took over for basketball. For some reason, I made an impression on the Principal and Superintendent and they found me another school. We never won a game but we sure had fun. Larry's team won the basketball trophy for the Elementary Schools in Dubuque.

Larry was attending Naval Reserve meetings on a regular bases and came home one night and gave all of us a lecture on the bad effects of smoking. He told us that they had shown lungs of smokers that were just black with very little cell growth. This was 1965 before anyone had ever heard or talked about the hazards of smoking. All of us had tried smoking at some point. I never liked it and after hearing Larry never tried it again. All of us drank and some of us drank too much. I can never remember Larry being drunk. He certainly drank but I never remember him drinking to excess. He always appeared to be in control of himself and the situation.

In October of 1965, Jeannie and I finally connected thanks to a friend who convinced her that I was okay and not too forceful. Shortly afterward, Larry met Randa Schmit. Larry was truly in love with Randa. For the first time since I first met Larry, he was not able to control the situation or his feelings. He was in love. Again, I do not know why but Larry took me under his wing and not only got me one of the three jobs I held my senior year (coaching), but when my car was in the shop getting fixed, Larry lent me his car. Now his car was an older model with more rust than metal but it ran. I had a date with Jeannie and we attended an event at Loras College. It was a very cold icy night and after the event was over, we carefully walked back to the car, as I was helping Jeannie into the car, her foot went right through the floor board. Larry now had air conditioning in his 1953 Chevy year around. In 2009 Jeannie and I met with Larry's parents, Mary and Joseph Ryan and I could see Larry in both of them. Both were very friendly and at the same time very much in control of their environment. They instilled in Larry the character of a leader with a desire to help others. Larry was always available to talk to his sisters or brothers at any time. Let there be no doubt that family came first in Larry's thoughts and actions.

By March of 1966, we were all trying to figure out what we wanted to do. I had grown up in the military as an Army brat and I assumed I would go into the service. Larry was planning on the Naval Aviation Program and I thought it would be a great idea since I wanted to fly. When I was taking the physical, a friend of my father's told me that I had a deferment as a solo surviving son. He highly recommended that I give civilian life a try before going into the military. I took his advice but Larry followed his dream. Larry was very proud to be a Naval Pilot and was proud to be serving his country.

Larry left for flight training as soon as we graduated. Randa and Larry were married on August 12th, 1967 in Anna Marie, Florida. Jeannie and I were married on December 27th, 1967 in the Basilica in Dyersville, Iowa. Larry and Randa attended the wedding and that night as Jeannie and I were leaving on our honeymoon, Larry showed our friends and classmates the outfit he wore when flying. Three months later I received a phone call from Bob Rosauer. He had heard on the local news that a Larry Ryan had been killed in a Naval Aircraft accident. I quickly called WMT (KGAN) for confirmation and found out that it was Larry J. Ryan from Dewitt. Larry was killed in the catapult accident on the USS Lexington. He was flying a TF9-J Cougar Jet and experienced the nightmare of all naval aviators - no catapult steam resulting in not enough air speed for take-off and flying. Larry ejected sideways and I'm sure his chute never had time to open properly. Larry will always be my HERO and my FRIEND.

In February of 2010, Joseph (Joe Jr.) Ryan shared the following photo of the Ryan Family. Larry would be proud of all of them. In addition to Larry Ryan, Dennis and Joe Jr. served in the Navy.

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