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Bill Ryan, a retired ag teacher from Paynesville, Minn., told of four important gifts he has received in his life -- friendship, faith, love and the American flag.

Memorial Day speaker tells of four gifts

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The most precious gifts you will receive have no wrapping paper, nor do they have a bow, according to a combat-wounded veteran, who gave the Memorial Day address in Morris on Monday.

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Bill Ryan, a retired ag teacher from Paynesville, Minn., told of four important gifts he has received in his life -- friendship, faith, love and the American flag.

Ryan entered the Army in 1964 and was sent to Fort Poke, La. There he met an African-American soldier named Jesse, who was from Georgia. As they talked, Jesse shared many stories of how black people were treated in the South, stories that Ryan said, “were atrocious.”

After basic training, Jesse was sent to Chu-Chi, South Vietnam while Ryan went on for more artillery training. Three months later, Ryan was also sent to Chu-Chi and although he was afraid of being sent to Vietnam, he was looking forward to seeing his friend again. When he arrived, Ryan learned that Jesse had been killed by a sniper a few weeks before.

“Through Jesse I learned that if we treat prejudice with prejudice, we are the only ones that are wrong. You see, my gift of friendship”

Ryan received his second gift of faith while in Vietnam, although the gift was given to him while he was in eighth grade. Upon his graduation from grade school, Sister Mary Carlotta told his class that she had no money to buy them gifts, but promised to pray for each of them. Her intention for the prayers would be that they each made their peace with God before they died.

Ryan thought little of this until he was injured. In March of 1967, his unit was moving towards the Cambodian border. Ryan was sitting on the back of an armored personnel carrier when it hit a landmine, launching him 60 feet into the air. He came down on his back and immediately realized that he was paralysed.

“My thoughts did not go to my mother or father, nor my three brothers, nor to my girl friend...my thoughts went to Sister Mary Carlotta. I begged for forgiveness and made my peace with God. The gift of faith.”

Ryan ended up in a Saigon hospital and later made the trip back to the United States. The soldiers were provided telephones to call their next of kin. Ryan broke the news to his mother, “I said, Mom, I’ve got a broken back and I’m paralysed from the waist down.

“She said, ‘Bill, as long as God gives your father and me life, we will carry carry you wherever you want to go. The gift of love.”

Ryan said the fourth gift is one that people don’t take enough time to think about and don’t appreciate.

“On behalf of all veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, our gift to you today and every day is this American flag. It represents the freedom under which we live.

“I would ask of you, please don’t ever bring disgrace or dishonor to this flag. And I beg of you, please don’t ever burn it, even though it is your right.

“If you are ever asked to serve under this flag, to fight for the freedom it represents, do so with honor, courage and dignity. Wear your uniform proudly. Hold your head high and fight with every ounce of strength that your body will give you, as so many veterans have done before you.”

Ryan spoke to the young people in the audience, suggesting that a future president of the United States, or a township chair was among them.

“We would ask you, that through your leadership, always keep American directed towards democracy, human rights and freedom for all.

Ryan concluded his remarks with a line from the National Anthem, “Oh say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Following the program at the National Guard Armory, the group processed to the Veterans Memorial for a brief ceremony. As part of the ceremony, names of those from Stevens County who died in World War II were read.

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