US Marine, Police Officer, Veterans’ Advocate – Eric Ryan – VALLEY PATRIOT OF THE MONTH – HERO IN OUR MIDST

By: John  Cuddy – 5/24

The 2024 John Ratka Hero Veteran Award recipient, Haverhill’s Eric Ryan graduated from Haverhill High School in 1988.

While growing up in the city with his brother, he was greatly influenced by his two grandfathers, both World War II Veterans.

One, left Norwich University during his sophomore year, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His grandfather joined the US Army and served in World War II as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne at the Battle of the Bulge. His grandfather used to joke that it “took him eight years to finish Norwich University.”

It wasn’t until much later in his life that his grandfather elaborated on his statement about college. His other grandfather served in the US Army in North Africa and the Philippine Islands, (then legally part of the United States, but occupied by Japan) during the war.

Both grandfathers instilled in Eric understanding and compassion for all people. Because without this mind set, you cannot help others, and most importantly you cannot understand or appreciate their struggles.

Eric reflected on many of his stories as a young man and his grandfathers’ impact on him. Citing one story working with his grandfather, “Papa Ryan,” who taught him how to do a brake job on a car at the age of nine.

Eric watched his grandfather intently work on the car and listened to everything he was told, including, why you need to fix brakes, and how the entire braking system worked. At the end of this “seminar,” his grandfather asked him several times about how the system worked and why it operated in this way.

Eric answered the questions correctly, and to his surprise was told by his grandfather “now put it back together and let us be done with this job.” Eric says he was “nervous and overwhelmed by my realization that I was now going to do this on his own.”

Eric began the process of reassembling the braking system. After everything was done, it was inspected by his grandparent, and a few things were tightened up by “Papa Ryan.”

The job was a success. Eric was able to put the new brakes on, checkedwhat needed to be checked and completed the job. He thinks he was successful, most likely with a little additional guidance at the time from his beloved grandparent.

Quoting Eric, “I learned so much more than I could ever imagine and have gone back to this story several times in my life. Because what I had learned was not how to change brakes on a car, it was to have confidence in myself to problem solve and to continuously learn and adapt to situations throughout my life with those very quiet and detailed guidelines I was provided by my grandfather so many years ago.”

Eric elaborates on his grandparents, “There is a reason why my grandfathers’ generation was deemed the greatest generation for a reason. Yes, what they did for their country overseas and how they stopped several leaders or dictators from around the world. It was their abilities to face and seek adversity and overcome it in a most basic of ways and the ability to pass this along to future generations to instill their success with what they do in their lives as well.”

His grandfather’s advice of not judging an American until you know their story, hit home with Eric, and guided him during his time in the US Marine Corp, as a Groveland Police Officer, and as a case manager for Clear Path for Veterans. Eric left the Marines as a Sargent, (E-5) with the MOS of 0331, machine gunner.

He then served our Nation as a Groveland, Massachusetts Police Officer.

Following up on our April Valley Patriot story of Haverhill Veterans Service Officer, Jeff Hollett, we talked, focusing this article also, on meeting the five needs of our Nation’s Veterans, housing, health care, employment, education, and fellowship. As a case manager for Clear Path for Veterans, Eric is working daily with fifty-three Veterans being treated by the Bedford, Massachusetts Veterans Hospital.

This writer encourages the readers of the Valley Patriot to visit the website of Clear Path for Veterans New England. The organization is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in 2017 with a mission to create a safe, supportive, and respectful environment for Veterans to seamlessly integrate into their communities. In our Hollett article last month, we talked about meeting the five basic needs of Veterans. A tour of Clear Path for Veterans New England’s website showcases programs as diverse as Yoga and Service Dogs, all designed to meet those needs.

Eric is very proud of Clear Path’s use of non-traditional therapy when treating our Veterans. Veterans can enjoy and benefit from programs such as horseback riding, gardening, and wood working, as well as Tai Chi. Clear Path also offers music and many other non-traditional treatments and approaches. Eric went into detail about taking four sullen, quiet, solitary Veterans to Old Glory Millworks, for the company’s free “Build a Flag Workshop for Veterans’’.

According to Eric, during the drive out to the shop at 25 N. Main Street Templeton, Massachusetts, none of the four Veterans spoke to each other or him. They spent the day working on a woodworking project at Old Glory Millworks, learning a craft, relaxing, and helping each other complete their individual projects.

On the ride home, these same four Veterans were laughing, talking, reminiscing about their day in the woodworking shop, starting the day as strangers and ending the day as friends. One of Eric’s concerns is, Veterans coming home and being trapped in “four walls.”

He is constantly trying to get the fifty-three Veterans in his care engaged with each other, family, employment, or the community at large. When asked if the Bedford VA Hospital still runs a 9-hole golf course, he proudly answered, “yes” and that two of the Veterans in his care are working on it!

Eric has taken this approach in his life whether with his professional careers, assisting friends in need, or being a member of his family and community. In his own words, Eric says “this has allowed me to view adversity and problem solve for those I can help.

While it is rewarding to help others, it is so much more to hear of their successes they have accomplished no matter how big or how small. I am so very fortunate to have found a home at Clear Path and amazed by what they have done and what I have learned from so many of the staff there as well.”

Eric especially credits mentor and co-worker Jason Gilbert, who is his “answer man for all and any questions” for his success.

US Marine Corps Veteran, Eric Ryan, leading by example, was the 2000th enrollee at VA Bedford, “Million Veteran Program (MVP), a program that contributes to research that can help fellow Veterans. “As Veterans, paying it forward and helping someone down the road – that’s what it’s all about,” said Ryan.

We talked about water therapy being used to treat Veterans with PTSD, employment programs helping Veterans make the transition to civilian life, and programs for assisting Veterans run by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the American Legion, the American Veterans (AMVETS), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Eric and the staff of the Valley Patriot always encourages Veterans to contact and join one of these four organizations.

Veterans in danger of being homeless are his number one priority, particularly Veterans with dependent children. One of his proudest moments at Clear Path was getting a Veteran with problems at work and home, into transitional housing within five days. US Marine, Police Officer, Veterans Advocate, Eric Ryan is a “Hero in our Midst”!

The Merrimack Valley American Legion Posts ask all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go to the American Legion’s Web site and join the American Legion. Our mission is working with Congress, Veterans, and the Community, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations and serving all Veterans and their families.

John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the US Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 27 years. If you know a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at ◊