Lantana resident recollects Air Force career

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After seeing a film on fighter pilots, U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Col. Jim Ryan made his way as a young man to Hutchinson, Kan., where he met with an Air Force recruiter.

In December 1951, he enlisted, becoming a control tower operator before starting Aviation Cadet Pilot Training in 1953.

“I wanted to get into the war,” Col. Ryan said.

That film would launch a storied 30-year Air Force career of a man who completed three tours of duty in Vietnam earning 29 medals. He also served at the Pentagon as the USAF man most knowledgeable about Southeast Asia.

Col. Ryan, now in his early 80s, is seeing his life story in print with the book “Under the Wing of a Patriot,” written by local author and former newspaper publisher Shane Allen.

Story after story of his three tours and 377 missions in the Vietnam War details how the Air Force played a role in saving the lives of men on the ground.

His job was to fly the 0-1 Bird Dog low to the ground, enticing the enemy to shoot at him. Once he knew their location, he would call in the coordinates to bring the fighter pilots to clear the area for U.S. troops.

“I would get them to shoot at me and that would give away their position,” he said.

Col. Ryan was also recognized with the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying the UH-1D helicopter in combat.

Now living in Lantana, Col. Ryan grew up in Eastern Oklahoma, not realizing at the time the turn his life would take in a movie theater.

But, in the end, he believes it was written in the stars from the beginning.

“I believe my life was planned,” he said. “I’m just living it.”

The 236-page book is available in paperback for $17.99 and will release in book stores on Oct. 28. There is a book signing at Grapes to Wine in Bartonville on Oct. 10 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. You can see more at

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