Army sergeant killed in Korean War finally to be laid to rest
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details
During an illustrious military career, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Clifford Ryan was awarded a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. He was killed at age 27 in 1950 in a battle with Chinese forces in Unsan, North Korea. And there his body lay unrecovered for decades.
On Thursday morning, the flag-draped casket bearing his remains -- identified in early 2011 through DNA testing -- finally made it to Southern California. He is to be buried Saturday at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside.
Honor guards greeted the casket about 5:30 a.m. at LAX as it was unloaded in a solemn ceremony from a Delta Airlines jet from Honolulu. Ryan's grandson and great-grandson and dozens of volunteers from the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that honors military dead, accompanied the casket to the Wiefels Mortuary in Palm Springs.
Born in Muscatine, Iowa, Ryan served with the 70th Tank Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry. He fought in Germany in World War II and then in June 1950 said goodbye to his pregnant wife and son and headed for Korea.
On Nov. 1, 1950, he was killed while guarding a bridge about 50 miles south of the Chinese border. The Army was unable to recover his remains at the time, and he was listed as missing in action.
In 2000, North Korean workers using a bulldozer to mine for gold found some bone clusters. They were sent to military facilities in Hawaii. In January 2011, Ryan's family learned that his remains had been identified through DNA testing at the forensics lab at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
"I'm just glad it's over with and he's at rest," said Terry Ryan, 65, of Cathedral City, who was 4 when his father died. Burial was delayed while Terry Ryan dealt with health problems. His son Corie, 41, and grandson, Dyllon, 18, accompanied the remains on their journey from LAX.
They will be on hand Saturday for the burial, along with other family members, including Terry Ryan's wife, Pat, and sister, Deborah Cox, who was a month old when their father died. Also expected to attend is Helen Sambdman, 85, the soldier's widow, who remarried and lives in Westminster.
"We've never done a case like this," said Capt. Eli Rivera, the casualty assistance officer who has worked with the Ryan family and traveled with the casket.
[For the record, 7:23 p.m., Sept. 6: A previous version of this post said Ryan was 28. He was 27. The post also said he had a 12-year military career, a figure that cannot be verified.]
Photo: Army Master Sgt. Clifford Ryan. Credit: Courtesy of the Ryan family