The saga of this legendary warrior comes from my good friend SKULLHEAD, via Finland, Arkansas, and the US Air Force Air Commando Association - S.L.
STAFF SERGEANT WALTER VON RYIK
Fighter Pilot (Ace), Wehrmacht Luftwaffe; Air Commando, United States Air Force
Born 18 August 1923, Kronstadt, Transylvania, Romania;
Died 27 January 2004, Crestview, Okaloosa County, Florida.
As a former Luftwaffe pilot, Walter von Ryik brought down a P-51 fighter during WWII before joining us good guys. He was ferrying a fighter to the Eastern front when he encountered a Mustang - in an effort to shake the Mustang, he dove under a bridge. He made it, the Mustang didn’t.
Walter wore his Air Force fatigues with a little extra touch by wearing a Africa Corps cap and bloused his fatigue pants over his boots like a German trooper. That rankled regular Air Force types, but he had earned the distinction.
Walter’s prize cat from Panama, Sam.
Sgt. Von Ryik picked up Sam as a kitten while on TDY to Panama. Sam lived in the Intelligence shack at Hurlburt field and grew into a full blown cougar. He went out on field exercises and was always the first to exit the ramp from the C-123 on a chain followed by Sgt. von Ryik.
Security was never a problem with Sam around.
The Green Berets remembered Sam. Sam loved to “play” by jumping on your back and pretend to be biting at your neck. He was heavy and usually you fell from the weight. One day a JAG type Major was shortcutting through the Intelligence shack to get to the legal offices. Sam leaped onto a desk and with the agility only a cat possesses jumped over a plastic partition wall, and fell upon back of the hapless Major who fainted dead away. Sgt. Von Ryik shooed Sam away and revived the Major. The Major’s first words were, “I just didn’t expect to be jumped by a mountain lion.”
After that, Sam was banished from the base. It’s OK though; he went on to become a movie star in the Walt Disney movie “Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar.”
(Adapted from the eulogy his wife Luisa gave at Walter’s funeral in 2004).
Walter von Ryik was a man loved living life on the edge - this man was a fighter pilot, a parachutist, a sharpshooter, a multilingual fighter who worked in special operations behind the lines during two wars.
Walter raced motor cycles, cars and anything else that moved - even to get out of his own driveway. Anyone who rode in a vehicle with him as the driver did so only one time - and afterward volunteered to do the driving.
Walter von Ryik was described by his wife Luisa as a gentle, shy, soft-centered guy who was born in the Carpathian Mountains in a picture book village called Kronstadt, in the region of Transylvania in Romania.
The Austrian language was spoken in his home, and he attended Austrian elementary school. Bubi - (little boy- as he was called) spent his time taking
care of his wolf/dog – hiking and skiing in the mountains behind his house and running from bears, wild wolves and gypsies.
Walter attended Romanian high school where he had to relearn math and science in a new language. Even though Germany was already at war, Walter’s father sent him there to attend an aeronautical engineering university. Later this 18 year old naive young man was drafted into the Luftwaffe along with his fellow students.
He served on the Russian front, and during the winter retreat Walter froze his toes off. Eventually he could no longer fly due to severe injuries -injuries that would give him problems the rest of his life. He spent time in Russian prison camps; near the war’s end when he heard they would be shipped to Siberia, he escaped.
After walking over 1000 miles back to Austria, Walter joined his parents, his widowed sister and her 3 children. As stateless refugees in Vienna they shared two rooms as well as powerful hunger and cold.
Walter received an opportunity to come to America. He arrived in NYC with a vocabulary of three words - “eggs over easy”! After struggling alone for a few years he joined the Air Force. There he found a home, opportunity to learn English and to educate himself.
In every sense Walter von Ryik became the recipient of the American dream - home, family, and a wide open future. He served in Vietnam and after retiring he finished his education and worked in engineering. Walter was a Mason, of Concord Lodge #50 of Crestview, Florida.
A true warrior, Walter hated the idea of war. But regardless of his disdain for senseless bloodshed he was 100% military. Every night at bedtime he religiously checked the perimeter.
When Walter died in 2004 he was survived by his wife Luisa, three children and six grandchildren.