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Missing Vietnam Veteran of 48 years finally laid to rest

May 25, 2017 Tags: Advancement & Alumni , Global

The 1966 alums of Saint Francis University met and fell in love on campus

Bill Ryan and Judy Woolsey met and fell in love as undergraduates while attending Saint Francis College. In an interview with NorthJersey.com, Lynn Quaid recounted how she introduced the couple that everyone believed were destined for one another. “They met every morning at Mass, and they would spend the entire day together. She livened him up, and he calmed her down.” After graduating in 1966, Billy and Judy married and Billy joined the Marines in August. Judy gave birth to their son, Michael Ryan, on May 12, 1968 while Billy was training in El Toro, California. Three months later, Billy deployed to Vietnam.

Yearbook photos of Ryans

First Lieutenant William C. Ryan Jr., a decorated Marine from Bogota, NJ, was killed in action after his fighter jet crashed in Laos on May 11, 1969, the day before his son’s first birthday. Ryan was the radio intercept officer on the F-4 Phantom, one of the most dangerous jobs in the military. When his jet was struck by enemy surface-to-air missile, the pilot, Lt. Gary Bain, called twice for them both to eject, but unfortunately Ryan never ejected and went down with the jet. Ryan was 25 years old when he died. His remains weren’t recovered for another 48 years.

Ryan Newspaper article

Without the evidence of Billy’s body, Judy held out hope that he could have survived and she may see him again. The jet landed in a jungle crawling with poisonous snakes and insects, plus bureaucratic delays from government agencies kept the soldier’s remains a mystery. Ryan’s remains were finally excavated in February of 2016. "They excavated the site seven times and finally found him and brought him home," Mike Ryan said.  On January 3, 2017, based on advancement in DNA identification techniques, the family finally received the confirmation of Billy’s death they had been waiting for.

Judy 50th ReunionJudy was an Elementary Education major at Saint Francis. Judy remarried, to a fellow educator, Carl Azzara, and served as a school principal for 24 years at Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna, VA. She was an accomplished author and regular contributor to Principal magazine and other educational publications. In 1996, she was named a Distinguished Alumna in Education by Saint Francis. Her son, Michael Sean Ryan, lives in Northern Virginia and works for the College of William and Mary. He is married with two children.

Just one day after receiving final confirmation of Billy’s identification, Judy learned she had stage-four colon cancer. Sadly, Judy’s second husband, Carl Azzara, passed away on March 23, 2017. After a short but courageous battle, Judy died of cancer on April 11th with her funeral on May 9th. Billy’s funeral was May 10th. “To have their funerals within hours of each other, it’s sad. But it’s also perfect,” said Pat Ryan, who lives in Ocean County with her husband, John — Billy Ryan's younger brother. “It’s almost like it was meant to be.” Billy Ryan was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery. There was a Marine brass band and a black wooden hearse pulled by six white horses. Four Boeing V-22 Osprey aircraft flew in formation overhead, and 500 people stood on the grass, the biggest such crowd Arlington National Cemetery had seen in 15 years, military officials said. "For him to be memorialized this way and honored this way here by the Marines, by Arlington National Cemetery, it was amazing," Mike Ryan said. “Billy came back to bring Judy home.” 

Watch the full honors burial at Arlington National Cemetery:

 

"I believe God has a hand in everything,” said Linda Frasco, Billy and Judy’s niece. “She was waiting for this for such a long time. And they’re together now.” According to the Department of Defense, there are 1,611 American servicemen and civilians still unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

Memorial contributions may be made to the William Ryan ‘66 and Judith Ryan Azzara ‘66 Scholarship, Saint Francis University, P.O. Box 600, Loretto, PA 15940. http://forever.francis.edu/makeagift

 

Information for this article compiled from news stories by NorthJersey.com editor Christopher Maag.