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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / World War 2 veteran Edward Ryon poses for a portrait on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 in Collegedale , Tenn. Ryon served as a B-26 Pilot in Europe during the war, a plane that was given the nickname "The Widowmaker".

When Ed Ryon and his classmates at Tyner High School graduated in 1941, they didn't have to decide what to do with their lives. Their immediate futures were already set; the Germans were taking control over all of Europe, and the draft was all anyone his age talked about.

Ryon and an old friend decided to join the Army Air Corps, even though neither had ever been in a plane.

"We knew we were being drafted, so we just more or less flipped a nickel," he said.

They planned to stay together throughout the war, but when they were called to the train station in Chattanooga, they were split into separate groups based on their last names and didn't see each other again for two years.

He was sent to Miami Beach to train before being sent overseas a year before the war ended.

Ryon piloted B-26 Marauder planes, nicknamed "widowmakers" because of their tendency to crash during takeoff and landing.

But he said the heavy bombers deserved the most credit. The P-51 fighter planes that protected the bombers didn't have enough gas to reach the target, so Germans would wait and attack the heavy bombers as soon as the P-51s ran out of gas and left them unprotected, Ryon said.

BIO

Name: Ed Ryon

Age:97

Branch of military: U.S. Army Air Corps

Years of service: 1944-1945

(Read about other local veterans in our "21-Veteran Salute" series here)

During a mission, the most welcome phrase for the crew to hear was "bombs away," a signal from the bombardier that the lead plane had dropped its bombs. Hearing that phrase meant the crew could turn the plane around and return to base.

For Ryon, returning to his "base" was about more than a physical place. The lifelong Baptist considers his faith to be his base and thinks of his family as a base as well, Ryon wrote in the foreword of his memoir, "Bombs Away! My Life and Training as a B-26 Pilot."

Ryon started each of his 42 missions with a prayer, he said. His prayers were not for himself but for his two brothers who were also in combat. One had a family, and the other planned to marry upon his return. Ed prayed that if any of the Ryon brothers were not to return home, it should be him.

While he never regretted those prayers, he was thankful all three Ryon brothers returned home safely. For he also prayed that if he was killed in combat, his wife Margaret Fullam — whom he married just prior to his departure — would have a long and happy life.

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World War II pilot Ed Ryon

She did so with him by her side, celebrating 68 years of marriage before her passing.

He dated in high school, but it wasn't until he was commissioned that he thought about marriage, Ryon said. When his old friend Bert Arnold, with whom he enlisted after high school, told him of his plans to marry, Ryon attempted to talk him out of it.

But Ryon didn't follow his own advice. While on a train headed to the base in Lake Charles, Louisiana, he wrote her a letter asking her to marry him. She accepted, and the two were married by a Baptist minister while he was stationed in Lake Charles.

They traveled together to the base in Miami. Due to the sickness of one of his crew members, all of Ryon's assignments were canceled. They spent the next three months honeymooning with another couple.

"There was nothing to do at all, and we enjoyed that," he said, adding that the woman from the other couple is still living, and the two keep in touch. "We still call each other or write letters. Most of the time we just call and we talk and talk."

When he returned from overseas he and Margaret started a family in Chattanooga, living in East Brainerd off Concord Road. They later moved to Igou Gap Road into what they call their "memory house," as it holds more than half a century of memories for Ryon and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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