Monument highlights veteran who touched the lives of many


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Senior life photo

There are those few who touch the lives of so many that they remain in the memories of those who knew them long after they are gone.

One of those was Army Command Sgt. Major William “Bill” Ryan.

Friends, veterans, public officials, including Melbourne City Council members and the mayor, representatives from U.S. Rep. Bill Posey’s office and Sen. Marco Rubio’s office, gathered recently to dedicate a monument in honor of the highly decorated soldier who knew no stranger.

The monument to Bill Ryan with the insignia of the 1st Infantry Division, The Big Red 1 — on which he is remembered as a patriot, an outstanding soldier and a mentor — stands along NASA Boulevard outside Eddie’s Sunrise Diner in Melbourne. 

Ryan died suddenly on Feb. 23, 2015 at the age of 90.

Retired police officer John Pasko, founder and executive director of Families of the Shield, headed the effort supported by many to get the memorial built in honor of Ryan.

“He came into my door every day at 1 o’clock,” said Jennifer Serrano of Eddie’s Sunrise Diner. “‘Sarge’ lighted up the room by his presence.”

Ryan served honorably for more than 30 years, serving in three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He was a veteran of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, among the most important battles of World War II. 

Friends say Ryan would tell about his service but would first inquire about those he encountered.

I had interviewed Ryan many times through the years. I often called on him because I respected his input and opinion on stories that affected veterans.

He first told me his story about World War II and his being among the first wave of troops that waded ashore in Normandy on June 6, 1944, D-Day. He landed on Omaha Beach, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting.

His landing craft was hit by artillery fire as it came ashore. Ryan said he was pulled ashore and left on the beach where for hours he drifted in and out of consciousness.

Ryan returned to those same beaches on visits through the years. His last visit was for the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014. He would often visit France, Belgium and Luxembourg, countries where he was befriended by many. Locals in an area near where he landed on D-Day named a street, Rue Ryan.

Ryan earned numerous medals, including three Bronze Stars for valor, Legion of Merit, two Purple Hearts, Korean and Vietnamese presidential unit citations. 

“It was truly his connection to people that mattered most,” his daughter Corrine Button said.