Dear Tim,

Yesterday the Ryder family had a chance to come together to recognize and give some sense of closure to the untimely death of Edwin Ryder - husband, father, brother, brother-in-law, uncle. It was a difficult day for all of us, but I am glad that we had the opportunity to have a family gathering and recognize Ed's service to us and his country. Below you will find the text of a newspaper article which was in today's Bangor Daily News .

Again thank you for your work with the histroy of all of these veterans. Your work certainly has meant a great deal to the Ryder family. The photo of Ed with the python was framed from your web site as the center piece for the presentation of the medals at yesterday's ceremony. I will be giving all of the family copies of your web site and e-mail address.

Again, many thanks for your work.

Howie Ryder

By Tom Weber, e-mail Tom
Last updated: Saturday, June 1, 2002
Greenville hero recognized for Vietnam service

Melanie Huff has always believed that her first husband died as a hero in Vietnam nearly 33 years ago.

On Friday morning, her government finally got around to officially recognizing it too.

At a small ceremony at Bangor City Hall, attended by family members and representatives of various veterans groups, U.S. Rep. John Baldacci awarded Huff some 15 military medals to commemorate the valor and meritorious service of Sgt. 1st Class Edwin Byron Ryder of Greenville, who was killed by a land mine Aug. 31, 1969.

Ryder’s children, his widow and his brothers all wept quietly together as the ceremony unfolded. In front of them was a photograph of Ryder, grinning as he held a huge python snake that he and his platoon mates had caught in the jungle. On the table was the series of medals Huff had been waiting for all these years later.

“I wanted them for my children, mostly, who were very young when their father died,” said Huff, who remarried in 1972 and now has 20 grandchildren. “They had always wanted them as a way to remember their father. It’s been such a long time, but it all comes back at a moment like this.”

Ryder was born in Greenville Junction in 1938 and grew up in a large family. His father, a paper worker, died when Ryder was 12, leaving his mother to raise the seven children alone.

“It wasn’t easy for her,” Huff said. “She took in washing to support the family, and the kids all had jobs early to help out. They were a strong, solid family.”

Ryder graduated from Greenville High School in 1957, and a year later joined the Army with five of his pals from town. Huff, who was Melanie Gary at the time, went to high school with Ryder and stayed in touch with him du ring his first two years in the service. They were married in 1960 and had five children while living on various Army bases throughout the country and in Germany.

Ryder was sent to Vietnam in 1968, as a platoon sergeant for the 59th Engineer Company, a land-clearing detail. His brother Mahlon, whom he had not seen for several years, was stationed just 100 miles away. Ryder’s wife w ent home to Greenville, where she raised the children in an apartment.

It was a tumultuous time in Vietnam. The Tet offensive had claimed 1,829 American troops a few months earlier. At home, the nation was reeling from the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King and Sen. Robert Kennedy . Anti-war sentiment was high.

“Edwin always believed in the war, that what he was doing was right, but he was worried about going to Vietnam. It was as if he knew …,” Huff recalled, as her voice trailed off into silence.

On the evening of Aug. 31, 1969, Ryder was operating a bulldozer in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam. The platoon called itself “Ryder’s Rangers,” and carried the name on the rear of the big machines. Monsoons had turned the mine-infested earth to mud, and one of the Rome plows had become mired. As Ryder worked to extricate the machine from the perilous, mushy ground, a mine blew up, killing him and three members of his platoon, and seriously wounding a fourth.

An Army enlisted man and an officer showed up at the house in Greenville to tell Huff the news. Ryder’s body arrived home a week later.

“It was devastating, but I was too busy to mope around,” Huff said. “I had to find a place to live and get the kids into school that fall.”

Three years later, she married Wayne Huff, a divorced father of four from Guilford who built furniture. They moved to Monson, and raised their nine children. The Army did present Huff with a few of Ryder’s medals in 1970 — a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor among them. They showed up in the mail, with a brief citation for “meritorious achievement” against a hostile force. Until Friday, however, there never had been a military cere mony to honor Ryder’s sacrifice.

“It’s wrong,” said Neal A. Williams of the Military Order of the Purple Heart USA, who worked with Baldacci for the last year to see that Ryder’s family finally got his full complement of medals. “It’s wrong that this is the first time the government has officially honored him, but it’s common from that period. It was a time when there were body bags being shipped home, and the country did not want to recognize its heroes. It was all just swept under the rug.”

Yet for Ryder’s family, the emotional medal ceremony was an occasion for something even more important than a long-delayed debt of gratitude from the military.

“This is a healing time for the family,” said Howard Ryder, Edwin’s youngest brother and the headmaster of Lincoln Academy in Newcastle. “It’s the first time we’ve all been together to recognize Ed’s military service. There’s a sense of closure today.”

Tom Weber’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.