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For some, Independence Day not only means fireworks and cookouts, but reflection on what it means to be independent.
And while World War II veteran Bernard L. ‘Bun’ Ryan certainly played a part in that, rarely did he have the time to reflect in the years following the war.
“I didn’t do anything. I was always busy pitching,” said Ryan, the star hurler of Pierotti’s Clowns of the Fourth of July holiday. The Clowns or the other softball teams he threw for were almost invariably playing in a tournament or exhibition game during the holiday.
Ryan was among the hardest throwing pitchers in the country during softball’s heyday following World War II and was, along with team captain and third baseman Lou Pierotti, who, like Ryan, is a longtime Los Alamos resident, was the Clowns’ main attraction.
Pierotti’s Clowns was a five-man softball team made up largely of players from Los Alamos National Laboratory’s S-Site – notably, Pierotti himself was not one of them, but instead was a local entrepreneur. The Clowns played exhibition games for charity and in their 200 official games spanning from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, went a remarkable 177-23.
When Ryan was on his game, he was virtually unhittable and was a big part of that stellar won-loss record.
Prior to his days with the Clowns, Ryan was a Master Sgt. in the U.S. Army. Ryan joined the Army in 1943, although he admits he wasn’t very keen on the idea at the time.
“But if I had to be a soldier, I was going to be the best soldier there was,” he said, noting that he was made Master Sgt. at age 22, which was a rarity.
During his enlistment, Ryan fought in the Pacific theater and in early 1945 was part of an invasion force at Luzon, the large, northernmost island in the Phillipines. His corps was mounting a successful push on the island but it was suddenly halted for reasons unknown to Ryan at the time.
He would find out that the U.S. Army feared his corps was getting too near a prison camp where many Americans were being held and that the Japanese would eliminate those prisoners.
But those Americans were freed by the 6th Army Rangers, an operation that would be chronicled in the book “Ghost Soldiers,” published in 2002, and the 2005 movie “The Great Raid.”
Ryan said he found out the book’s author, Hampton Sides, actually lived in Santa Fe and Ryan persuaded him to give a talk in Los Alamos.
Ryan said near the end of the war, he and his corps were making preparations for the invasion of Japan, with the first target being the naval base of Sasebo on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, but that invasion never happened, thanks to the dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“I thought that it was ironic that I ended up working at S-Site along with some of the same guys who saved my life,” Ryan said. “If we’d invaded Sasebo, it would’ve been a bloodbath.”
Nowadays, Ryan said he often goes to visit his daughter in Santa Fe for Independence Day. Ryan hasn’t thrown a pitch in a competitive environment since the early 1990s but has stayed busy in recent years writing a book, “My Cat-Skills” about his adopted cat Big-A-Boy, which he said has “gotten a big head” since the book was published in 2009. With the proceeds from book sales, he was able to donate about $1,200 for the charity Felines and Friends.
And Ryan is still as big a sports fan as ever, holding season tickets for the Denver Broncos and frequently visits Las Vegas to lay his money down – he admits with a chuckle that out of a substantial pool of money he and family members played during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, they ended up losing $18.
And throughout his travels with both the Army and softball and throughout his life living in Los Alamos, he has met several people who played a big role in America’s victory in World War II – he found out many years after the fact that he was stationed at Camp Roberts, Calif., at the same time as recently deceased Los Alamos icon Steve Stoddard – Ryan said he is not and has never been a fan of conflict.
“War is so stupid,” he said. “Nobody wins. Everybody loses.”