Ralph J. Byrne Sr. was born to Arthur Byrne and Emma Brickhead on Oct. 15, 1932. The youngest of eight children, he was often referred to as “baby brother” well into his 70s by various siblings.
Brothers Richard and Leroy Byrne, sisters Ruth, Jeannie, Betty, Cora and Geraldine. My father and Aunt Betty are still living.
My father looked up to his older brother Frank. He says that Frank first served a full term in he Army and then joined the Navy for a full 20 years.
At age 17 with an eighth grade education he enlisted in the Army during the Korean War. He was stationed in Regensburg, France, and Mannheim, Germany. They were assigned to guard the Czech border. He remembers the guys on the other side of the border as being very friendly and a lot like them. They even traded cigarettes with each other. There was never any real conflict. He remembers dating a German lady who was blind. And would often jokingly refer to our having another brother over there.
My father just turned 87. After showing him some pictures he stated that he had been in the Army for exactly two years, 11 months and seven days. He also said that he was 21 when he enlisted.
He enlisted in 1951 and was a Pvt RA Armor, tag number Ra15457277. Most significant duty assignment was 1814 Company G 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment. He has a DD 214 form among his many papers which states, “Honorable Discharge from the Armed Forces of the United States of America, this is to certify that Ralph J. Byrne RA 15457277 Private First Class Regular Army was honorably discharged from the Army of the United States on the 11th day of September 1954. This certificate is awarded as testimonial of honest and faithful service.” His discharge from service was due to having his appendix removed while enlisted. He still receives a monthly check for it.
He talks of hanging out in the kitchen with his buddies which is evident in a couple of the pictures. The pictures also give used three different modes of dress, all very well maintained.
The form shows that he received two medals, an OCC and MEDGER and National Defense Service Medal.
I’m sure my father’s memories would have been more detailed if we only had the foresight to talk with him about it a little sooner. After experiencing some serious health issues last year he slipped away from us into full blown dementia, complete with paranoid delusions. Some visits are good and he almost seems himself again. But they don’t last. The tough guy that we all knew is no longer there.
An example of his strength that best stands out to me would be that through most of my childhood my father was a regular drinker and heavy smoker, whiskey and cigars on occasion also. When we became teenagers, as teens often do, we began to tell him he had a problem. It wasn’t long after he informed anyone who would listen that nothing had control over him he only smoked and drank because he enjoyed both. Within a short time, he had put his carton of cigarettes and a few extra packs on top of our television and announced to everyone that he could quit anytime he wanted. He stopped drinking the same day. He was 52 years old. He sometimes still jokes to this day about having a beer. He favorite is A&W root beer or sometimes a Mug.
He raised four boys and three girls, was married to my mother for 55 years until she died nine years ago from CLL.