2021 Veterans Day Observance at Vet Med: A Search for a Hero
Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Media Contact: Derinda Blakeney | College of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 | email@example.com
Each year, Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine hosts a Veterans Day Observance.
Dr. Jerry Ritchey, alumnus (CVM ’91) and professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, shared a story with attendees about his grandfather, who was killed in action in France during World War II. Ritchey didn’t know much about his grandfather and set out on a journey to find out who he was and what he did.
“I wrote the National Archives and discovered that about 85 percent of our World War II era veterans’ records were destroyed in a 1973 fire in a national archives holding facility," Ritchey said. "They sent me one piece of paper which was a company morning report issued by his commanding officer the day after my grandfather was killed. From that slip of paper, I was able to get my grandfather’s unit — Company B 48th Tank Battalion of the 14th Armored Division—and I was able to figure out when he was killed — Nov. 22, 1944 — and where — in the Vosges Mountains Campaign in southeastern France. What I didn’t realize was that little slip of paper was going to take me on a fantastic journey.”
Ritchey tracked down the reunion organization for the 14th Armored Division and received a printout of all the living veterans who served in his grandfather’s company and began calling them but to no avail. Call after call no one knew his grandfather. A conversation with Col. Bob Elder, the company commander, revealed that a week after Ritchey’s grandfather was killed, Company B was ambushed by the Germans and nearly the entire company was killed.
“He told me there were only about 12 out of the 120 that survived that battle and most everyone in the company, including him, was a replacement. And my heart just sank," Ritchey said. "Now my pool of people who would have known my grandfather was even smaller.”
Elder sent Ritchey to the supply sergeant, who was with the original company. While the supply sergeant knew Ritchey’s grandfather, he didn’t know him well. However, he gave Ritchey the name of a combat soldier who was part of the original unit – Paul Van Dyke.
“I called Mr. Van Dyke and by this time I had the line memorized. ‘Hello sir. I’m Dr. Jerry Ritchey from Stillwater, Oklahoma. I’m looking for someone who may have information on my grandfather, Staff Sergeant Samuel Eberly Boyden, who served in Company B of the 48th Tank Battalion. Do you by any chance happen to know my grandfather?’" Ritchey said. "There was a pause and then in this trembling voice, Mr. Van Dyke said, ‘Yes, I know Sam Boyden. He was my tank commander.’ I just can’t tell you what that was like. The ironic thing was that Mr. Van Dyke lived just a couple hours north in Kansas. He had returned from the war and became a very successful Kansas businessman.”
That weekend, the University of Kansas was playing OSU. Ritchey and his oldest son, Caleb, who was 10 at the time, drove to Kansas and spent the entire weekend with Van Dyke.
“He told me everything that I wanted to know about my grandfather. What kind of man he was, what he did, how he was killed, what they were doing," Ritchey said. "As it turned out, my grandfather was a hero. I had gone on this journey intending to find out something about my grandfather. But I got so much more. I did not find just one hero, but I found hundreds, each with their own stories of sacrifice and service. Not only the men that I talked to along the way but the names and faces of many that I had learned and read about as I was trying to fill the gaps.
“All of my children serve in the U.S. military. I’ve seen first-hand the commitment and the sacrifice they make to serve, to deploy sometimes in combat zones and to have to leave their wife and children or to just go to work on a day by day basis and be put in harm’s way during live fire exercises or like my oldest son, who has to jump out of perfectly good airplanes. They do it for us so that we don’t have to. Not once have I ever come to work and worried if my parachute was going to open.
“Our college got great press for our high volume COVID testing that was performed at OADDL. We were performing over 2,000 tests a day during the peak of the pandemic. We could not have done that without the guardsmen who, while time away from their families and their jobs, drove to all the county health departments to collect those samples and then deliver them to us here. They were critical in our success story.
“I have two take-home messages today. No. 1, for particularly the young people, seek out the contribution of your veteran relatives now. Hear their stories. Do not wait like I did until it’s too late and there is nobody left to tell it. Every time a veteran dies, it’s like a library has burned down. So check out the book before that happens. And then for all of us, we owe our men and women service members, both living and dead, so very much. They never ask anything in return. So we have to learn to give. For them, be the best person that you can be. Be the best citizen that you can be. God bless all of our veterans and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.”
Ritchey joined the faculty at OSU CVM in 1997. He currently teaches veterinary and graduate students and rotates through necropsy and biopsy services as attending pathologist for the Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. Ritchey also serves as the director of the Immunopathology Core Program for the Oklahoma Center for Respiratory and Infectious Diseases. The Center provides immunology and pathology support for infectious disease research.
Ritchey’s military connection comes through his three children: Caleb is a West Point graduate who serves as a Captain in the 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Carolina married a U.S. Army pilot and they are currently stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas; and John is a senior cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.