Michael Patrick Ryan – Major General, United States Marine Corps

Gen. Michael Ryan Dies; Helped Start Marathon

Michael Patrick Ryan, 88, a Major General in the Marine Corps who was awarded the Navy Cross for leading a battalion at the bloody battle of Tarawa in 1943 and who later helped start Washington's popular Marine Corps Marathon, died of a heart attack Jan. 9 at a retirement home in Northridge, California, where he lived.

General Ryan was a Major in November 1943 when his company waded ashore at the Gilbert Island beach at Betio in Tarawa, now part of the Republic of Kiribati. It was the first large-scale test of U.S. amphibious doctrine against a strongly fortified beachhead, military historians said, and the heavy casualties for such a small atoll triggered a public outcry in the United States. About 1,000 Americans died during 76 hours of fighting; about 5,000 Japanese and Korean troops were killed.


The casualties started in the water, and several companies were decimated. Under withering fire, Gen. Ryan put together a composite battalion made up of remnants of infantry and machine gun platoons, who were later dubbed “Ryan's Orphans.” Over the next two days, the troops took over the western end of Betio, which allowed the first substantial reinforcements to land intact. For his actions, General Ryan was awarded the Navy Cross.

General Ryan was born in Osage City, Kansas, and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1933. He was called up to active duty in November 1940. As a major during World War II, he served with the 6th Marines in Iceland and later with the 2nd Marines in Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian.

He also served in Korea in 1954 as a battalion commander, and in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 as assistant division commander of the 3rd Marine Division.

He served several times at Quantico and the Pentagon. His last active-duty assignment was as director of the Marine Corps Reserve, when he and Colonel James Fowler founded the Marine Corps Marathon, which in its first year was informally called Ryan's Run. General Ryan approved Fowler's suggestion for the race, considering that it would be good publicity for recruiting, but he worried about whether anyone would show up. According to the marathon's Web site history, 1,175 people ran, which at the time was the largest first-time marathon race ever held in the United States. Last year drew 22,666 registrants, the highest in the marathon's history. Of those, 16,987 crossed the start line and 16,455 made it to the end.

General Ryan retired in 1977 and moved to Texas until 1986. He then moved to California.

His other military awards included the Legion of Merit and the Presidential Unit Citation.

His wife of 55 years, Marjorie Eleanor Ryan, died in 1998.

Survivors include three children, Michael Patrick Ryan Jr. of Mexico City, Allen Frederic Ryan of Solana Beach, Calif., and Theresa Cecile Ryan of Northridge; and two grandchildren.


Born January 30, 1916 in Osage City, Kansas; passed away suddenly on January 9, 2005 in Northridge, California, after a holiday season filled with warmth, love and family.

General Ryan had a distinguished 44-year career in the US Marine Corps. He served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II and was awarded the US Navy Cross and the British Distinguished Service Cross for valor at Tarawa. He also served in Korea and two tours of duty in Vietnam. For the final years of his active military career, he was Director of the Marine Corps Reserve and sponsored the initial running of the Marine Corps Marathon. He had deep affection for the Corps and his fellow Marines.

Gen. Ryan was predeceased by his wife of 55 years, Marjorie Eleanor. He is survived by son, Michael Patrick Jr. and his wife, Phyllis of Mexico City; son, Allen Frederic and his wife, Janis of Solana Beach, California, and daughter, Theresa Cecile of Northridge, California. He was the devoted grandfather of Sarah Elizabeth of New York, New York, and Michael Allan of Palo Alto, California.

He was an exceptionally loving husband, father and grandfather who always put his family before himself. His love, kindness and gentle strength will be greatly missed by his family and friends.

Visitation will be at 7 p.m., Wednesday, January 12 at St. John Baptist De La Salle Catholic Church, 16545 Chatsworth, Granada Hills, CA, where funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, January 13, 2005.

Interment with full military honors will be at 9 a.m., Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.


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