The Way I See Things
How Came to Be in the
398th Bomb Group Memorial Association
by Col. Mike Ryan
Farewell Banquet Speech
398th Falls Church Reunion - September 11, 2004
Mesdames et Messieurs, Bon Soir! Je voudrais vous dire en quelques minutes une histoire; une histoire heroique et a la fois tragique. C'est votre histoire. Vous etes sorti votre pays. Vous avez apporte la guerre au couer d'Europe; au couer de I'Allemagne d'Hitler; au couer de la tyrranie!
Not now Wally, I'm talking here...
Vous avez defendu courageusement la liberte, l'egalite...
What? English? Really? ...Oops...
Ladies and Gentlemen, I apologize...apparently, Wally wants me to speak in English... You see, normally he only lets me speak in public as his French translator...
Oh well, so much for that speech (TOSS PAPERS)
As a second-generation member of the 398th and an active duty Air Force officer, Wally very kindly asked me to say just a few words about the way I see things today and how I came to be associated with you wonderful people. So, first things first...
As I boy I grew up with stories of my father's time as a navigator in the 602nd. I should say, rather, that my sisters and I grew up with stories of our father's wartime experience, because my sister Peggy Fisher and her husband Tom are here with us tonight attending their very first reunion.
Our mother used to call our father "Short War Harrigan". It seems that by the time he arrived at Nuthampstead you all had just about won the war and he, being of Irish descent, wanted the full experience. So, on their very first mission to Kraiburg, Germany on April 11th, 1945 the Arthur Shirk crew hit the silk. (After dropping their bombs I must add).
Now, I have to tell you that on that crew there were three boys...like you only 18 or 19 years old...from Cresson, Pennsylvania. They had grown up together, gone to school together, and when they met in training, got put on the same crew together: Our father, Michael O. Ryan, the navigator, John Coxey, and "Dink" Wagner, the waist gunners.
On that day, they bailed out together. Then, two of them evaded together. They evaded for two days and then tired, wet and hungry they decided to try to find a Catholic priest to ask for food. At night on the 13th of April they walked quietly in complete darkness into the little village of Stetten north of Ulm in southern Germany.
To their delight they could hear the townsfolk sitting peacefully out on their porches taking in the night air just like folks back home in Cresson always did. Unfortunately for them, these townsfolk were the headquarters of a Nazi SS Regiment. Before they knew it they were uninvited guests of the Wehrmacht in the city jail of Ulm, Germany.
Their stay, while not pleasant, was also not long. A couple of weeks after their arrival news came of an impending visit by the 10th Armored Division. The German guards ran East, they ran West. And so, Short War Harrigan was in Paris for VE Day having had a complete experience.
I've come to know most of this and to understand all of it through my association with all of you. Thank you for all you've done.
Our father never really had the chance to tell us about himself, but nevertheless, his exploits and yours were and always have been an inspiration to me. That inspiration led me to the Air Force Academy and then on to pilot training in the Air Force.
Oh, before I forget, Allen wanted me to take some pictures...OK, everybody...smile! No, wait...can you all try to squeeze into the middle? Nope...stay where you are, that won't work. I’ll have to take a couple... OK, this side, Smile!... Wait, Geoff, you weren't smiling... I’ll have to take another one...Keep your eyes open everybody...
Now, where was I...oh yes, pilot training. Well, when I was finished they didn't have any B-17s available so I asked for the next best thing, the A- 10... The A-10 is a big single-seat attack aircraft...maybe you've seen it...it flies very low and relatively slow...only 300 knots on the deck. It's great fun... I like it because I always get a window seat in the non- smoking section. It's about the size of the B-25 but it only has a crew of one. I used to think getting to fly a single-seat fighter meant I was a good pilot until I found out it was because no one else would fly in the same plane with me...
So, I flew A-10's in Europe during the cold war in the same skies where you operated the B-17 during the hot war. My squadron's mission was to defend the vast north German plain from invasion by the Warsaw Pact. Our best estimate was that if war ever started the A-10s would've been a bug splat on the windshield of the Soviet juggernaut. We would've cracked that windshield though... After the cold war, we came back to the states to start a family and then eventually to Washington so I could attend graduate school. It was there that I found out about all of you.
One day I walked into the office of the man who would chair my thesis, Colonel William F. Scott. I was proudly wearing my Air Force A-2 leather flight jacket. He looked at me and the first thing he said was I have a jacket just like that. So I said, well I have one just like yours...it was my father's - he flew on B-17s. He then said, so did I and then he asked me what group. And I said proudly, the 398th! He then said, so did I! And that's how I came to find out about all of you... Dr. Scott and his wife Harriet Fast Scott are here with us tonight.
You may remember Colonel Scott from his time as assistant group operations officer at Nuthampstead. I like to brag about him... he was the US Air Attaché in Moscow during the Cuban Missile Crisis and he's done a lot more than that in his very successful career.
Today, I fly a desk. It’s a very nice desk. It’s located in Brussels, Belgium. I am the Department of Defense representative to the European Union...also known as the EU. The EU is a block of 25 nations and 450 million people who are trying to build sort of an international government for themselves. Recently, they've started working on a project called the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). Having spent 12 years of my career in Europe, it's something I know a little bit about - Europe. It’s my job to make sure that their European defense initiatives work well with NATO and are supporting our United States' interests in the world. It's fun and rewarding, and like you, we hope to make a difference.
At this point in my remarks I'm reminded of an old fighter pilot story: How do you know you're halfway through a blind date with a fighter pilot? That's when he says, "So, enough about me, let's talk about flying!"
So, let's talk about flying...I just want to give you a quick update on your United States Air Force today. Today's bomber force is incredible. During the recent hostilities, our bomber crews have done truly remarkable things.
Prior to the second Gulf War, B-52's flying out of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam in the Pacific fired Air Launched Cruise Missiles into Iraq and returned safely home again without ever flying over enemy territory.
During the Kosovo Air Campaign in the Balkans, B-2 bombers flying from home station at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri conducted combat missions over southern Europe dropping satellite-guided 2,000 pound bombs and then returning directly to the US (we call that "commuter combat"). These bombs, called JDAMS (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) are amazing. The B-2's dropped 8 bombs on one pass precisely targeting and attacking 8 different targets. It’s like picking 8 tables in this room and putting a bomb squarely on each one only it's better than that. The targets are more precise than just tables. They could put a bomb in Wally's water glass, a bomb on Doc Graham's bread plate, a bomb in Keith Anderson's scotch and water and so on...it's amazing. And during the Iraq war, you may recall an attack on a restaurant where we thought Saddam Hussein was having dinner. That restaurant was demolished only 45 minutes after our intelligence got the information. A B-1 bomber was in the middle of air refueling when it got the order to strike. It went right to the target and used a precision weapon to destroy, not the area, but only the designated building, which was in a residential neighborhood. A precision strike and no collateral damage. That wasn't the most amazing thing...More incredible to me, that B-1 bomber crew flew for another six hours and attacked 8 or 10 more individual targets all over Iraq before returning to base.
This lesson is clear. The strategy of strategic precision bombing is a sound one. You proved that and we are still proving it today. Fortunately, advances in technology are enabling us to do more with fewer aircraft, and most importantly fewer losses.
There's a lot of talk in the papers today about loss... Wally asked me to talk about How I See Things from my position in the formation and to do that, I'd like to ask you a few questions, first about loss:
We've lost 1000 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in Iraq and more in the war on terrorism. And people are starting to wonder if it's worth it. Well, you know about loss...heavy losses in a fight for a worthy cause and I'm sure you've wondered from time to time if it was worth it. Spending time with you over the past few years I've seen the answer in your faces as you tell your stories and remember your friends, was it worth it? I think your answer would be, yes, it was hard, but it was worth it.
The next question I'd like you to consider is this: "Do you know what you've done?" It may seem like a strange question, so I'll ask it again: "Do you know what you've done?"
Your courage and sacrifice, your victory in the war against tyranny in Europe, your defeat of the Nazi war machine has given the people of Europe something they've never had in 2000 years of history, 60 unbroken years of peace and freedom. The Romans gave them a sort of peace, but not freedom. You've given them both. Imagine. Most people in Europe have lived their entire lives without even a thought about war. That's an amazing gift. It was your gift.
The last question is this: "So, what have they done with your gift?" "What have the Europeans done with the gift of peace and freedom you bestowed upon them?" What have they done indeed?
The European Union is Europe's answer to thousands of years of bloodshed. It is their federal government following their civil wars... With malice toward none and charity for all, they are building an integrated structure that will ensure that they can never again raise arms in anger against their neighbors. And, you may be surprised to know that their actions were our aims in the Marshall Plan. Yes, your generation put them on this track. Your vision and your money in addition to your blood and your sweat ensured the peace we know in Europe today. It's been a long process and we need to take the long view to see it. Those euros you spent during the "One Last Look Tour” are evidence of your success.
Now, they are having some problems but they're on the right track. The war in Bosnia showed them that they need to work harder and be more ambitious if they are to achieve their aims. The war in Kosovo, and the complete domination of that war by your United States Air Force showed them that they need to develop their own capabilities if they are to join with the United States in the fight against instability around the globe. These are challenges that they have accepted and we are working together to ensure their success.
From my perch, as I stand on the brink of history and peer out into the future I can see a day when the Europe that you set free and the United States of America that we all love will work together in a real strategic partnership to carry real freedom and real prosperity to the rest of world. Gentlemen, this is your legacy...it's all possible because of you.
So, was it worth it? It most assuredly was!
And that's the way I see it. Thank you for honoring my father, our father, by allowing me to speak to you tonight. I hope that my service in our Air Force honors you. Thank you for your kind attention. Good night.
Col. Mike Ryan
Farewell Banquet Speech
398th Falls Church Reunion - September 11, 2004
2004 398th Reunion Photos
- 398th Reunion at Falls Church - September 11, 2004 - via Col. Mike Ryan