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|These are the words that 24 year old, Sergeant Ryan James Connolly said to his dad Jim Connolly every time he talked to him.
You see Ryan was in the US Army and stationed in Afghanistan. Serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Germany. In June 2007, just one week after his daughter Kayla was
born, Ryan left for Eastern Afghanistan.
After serving in Afghanistan for one year and just day’s left to get back to Germany, Sergeant Ryan Connolly lost his life.
Ryan was known to be mischievous, polite, active, very adventuresome and inquisitive. The youngest of three children, with brother Mike the oldest and his sister Kelly in the middle,
Ryan was always into something and relished topping his older siblings. With humor and full gusto, he loved to outdo both of his siblings and no matter what they did he had to try it.
Growing up he was usually right next to his dad Jim working on and building older model cars they would buy, fix-up and sell. His favorite thing to do was go with Dad and spend
the day at the junk yards looking for that one very special part to make one of these stock cars run.
Always eager to get things going, Ryan had a passion for anything with an engine or wheels. He certainly knew his way around the garage and a toolbox.
One day Ryan came home pushing a mini bike with nothing but the frame and flat tires. He talked to his dad about maybe working on it the following weekend. Ryan was not one to
sit and wait if something could be done now. When Jim got home from work the next day it was not a surprise to see that Ryan was out riding that mini bike around the court. It was
just one of many times that Jim got out of mowing the front lawn. Yes, Ryan had removed the engine from the family lawn mower to get the bike running. This was not the last of his
mechanical ability as a youth. He was forever dragging something home to put the latest engine into.
It seems that “Doc” as he was called in the unit continued to be handy with the tools. Ryan was a medic and one day while out on patrol in the remotest parts of the Tora Bora area
of Afghanistan he found an old motorcycle, fixed it up and enjoyed doing wheelies, jumping things and racing around. He called home several times to tell Jim how he was having
fun riding around putting on a show for the locals. (Interesting enough, there is no clean running water in this area but there is cell phone connection!)
Unfortunately, one of his fellow soldiers decided to have some fun one day and fell off, injuring himself pretty good. Ryan fixed him up but the Lieutenant decided enough of the bike
Ryan was a 2002 graduate of Piner High School in Santa Rosa, Ca. His brother Mike was in the US Navy at the time and was onboard the USS Enterprise on 9/11. His was the first ship
deployed to Afghanistan. At age 17 Ryan took the attack very personal.
After high school he attended Santa Rosa Junior College then moved over to Solano Community College.
At age 21 Ryan decided he was going to go into the military and chose the US Army. He tested very high on the entrance tests and completed advanced schooling and became a
medic because that is where he felt he could help others the most. In his short career, he reenlisted after only 2 year of duty and was awarded with many heroic medals.
His grandfather served in WW II so his grandmother gave Ryan a divisional patch of his grandfathers to wear the day he shipped out. Ryan was carrying the patch in his pocket the
day he died.
While still in Germany, Ryan decided he wanted to build a car when he got home. He searched online and found a 1970 Nova. It ran and was in pretty good shape. Problem was he
was in Germany, the car was in Idaho and he needed to ship it somewhere in California to sit until he returned. So it went to his mom, Robin, and step dad’s house in Vallejo,
During his regular calls to his mom from Afghanistan, Ryan would have them go out and start the car just so he could hear it run.
Ryan came home on leave in April for 2 weeks. Ryan arrived thin, tanned, strong, self confident and happy to be home with his wife Stefanie and daughter Kayla along with the rest
of his family. He checked out his car and ordered a new rear end that was later shipped to Dad’s house in Santa Rosa. They talked about bringing the car to Santa Rosa and the
work he wanted do to it. Ryan was looking forward to getting home in June and getting started on the project with Jim.
How did we hear about Ryan’s story?
On June 2 of 2008 Tom Kemper took his 12-year-old daughter out to Airport Road to stand along side of the road as another young man was flown home. Army SPC Christopher
Gathercole, just 21 years old had also made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Ryan did not know Christopher but heard about his falling and that he was from home so he called
and asked Dad to go and represent him and his unit. A hard thing to do but Jim was proud to stand there as the young man passed by saying a few words asking for safety for his
own son. Spc Gathercole was given a standing ovation as he was driven into Santa Rosa for last time. Tom stood next to his friend, Jim Connolly and the two shared their thoughts
and feelings and Jim mentioned that his son Ryan was stationed in Afghanistan and only had 14 days left until he would be able to bring his family back from Germany to California.
Jim said they held their breath every single day.
Yes, Ryan did only have a few days left but it was not to be that he would return after 14 days. Instead it turned out that his unit was going to be short a couple of men for a short
extension leaving them without the 20 that covered the unit. So he and another comrade offered to stay and cover the void. Ryan never came home! He was killed on June 24th, 2008
Tom Kemper could not believe what he had just heard. He was angry, hurt and sad all at once. He just knew he had to do something for this young man and his friend. Tom heard
about the car and being a car enthusiast himself called a couple of people he knew that were into cars and asked for direction. That is when he was directed to my husband Rich
Tom called and told me his story. He felt that there had to be something the community or someone could do for this family. How could we give back to someone that had given so
much for all of us? Well, Tom’s passion brought Ryan’s passion to surface!
Ryan has left a young wife of 23 and a 16-month-old daughter he had only seen for a total of 3 weeks. He also left a 1970 Nova that was his last wish to rebuild. While we can never
give Kayla back her father, we can give her the car he would have built and shared with her. Our goal is to bring two things that Ryan loved together in hope that one helps to ease
the loss and fill the void the other will experience.
This child will never know the humor, sensitivity, adventure or love her father had to share. In her short life he did not have to opportunity to leave her with anything that told her
who he was. It would be the greatest thing for us to rebuild his car and share with the community of car enthusiasts his gift to us. FREEDOM! Thus Kayla would have some vision of
what her dad enjoyed. If at some point in the future Kayla’s needs dictated selling the car the money raised would go directly into a Trust Fund in her name. Kayla Claire Connolly!
One glance into this little girls crystal blue eyes it is easy to see that Ryan Connolly will forever be with us!
|SGT. RYAN CONNOLLY
FALLEN SOLDIER PROJET