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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Swedish American MIA Coming Home

Richard Ryrholm and his four siblings all served in the United States Armed Forces during WWII. Only he disappeared, 19 years old. At last, his remains in the jungle have been found, identified and are coming home.

Richard Ryrholm flew one of these, a P-38 Lightning. Five years ago his aircraft was found in the deep jungle of Papua New Guinea, but only now has he been positively identified so that he can be brought home. PHOTO: USAF

Second Lieutenant Richard S. Ryrholm came from a family that definately took part in WWII. His father was from the Swedish West Coast, his mother from Stockholm. Ryrholm’s twin brother, 2nd Lt. Robert W. Ryrholm, also served in the USAAF. His older brother, Arthur Ryrholm, served as a US Army captain in the Philippines and received a Bronze Star. Both of his sisters became officers too: Eleanor Ryrholm Scatchard in the Coast Guard and Ruth Marie Ryrholm in the Army Nurses Corps.

Richard Ryrholm enlisted in Boston, Massachusetts, in December, 1942. On September 4, 1943 Ryrholm was just 19 year old but had been flying P-38 Lightnings for five months when he on that fateful day crashed while on a combat mission against Japanese aircraft over Lae, Papua New Guinea.

His unit, the 432nd Fighter Squadron, searched for Ryrholm for two days but failed to locate anything. He was thus declared as missing in action. In 1949 a military review board said that his remains were unrecoverable.

At the time of writing I have no photo myself of Richard Ryrholm, but this is another Swedish American in the same type of aircraft in the same theatre of war. The pictured pilot, Richard Bong, is still today the top US air ace. PHOTO: USAF

A local paper in California, Calaveras Enterprise, has more details and reports that Ryrholm´s family was "devastated and some members continued to believe that Ryrholm might still be alive". Presumably, some family members were affected by the true stories about Pacific War soldiers surviving in the jungle years, even decades, after WWII.

Here you can see photographs of the Ryrholm possessions that were found deep in the jungle. Yes, it was only this year, after 67 years of uncertainty, that his remains and possessions were positively identified, although his aircraft was located five years ago.

Now that there is no doubt about the identity, the U.S. military has sought out Ryrholm´s family and is bringing Richard Ryrholm home. His burial will take place in Massachusetts, where he enlisted and where he has many living relatives.

The news has been received with great interest also among Ryrholm family members in Sweden. One of them being the first source of this post, Professor Nils Ryrholm, who for several years was the curator of i.a. the Leonard Gyllenhaal collection at Uppsala University. Incidentally, some of Leonard Gyllenhaal´s descendants also served in the Pacific during WWII, one of them, Charles Gyllenhaal, even on Papua New Guinea!

For more on Ryrholm see this other California newspaper.

Not only the top US air ace flew the same aircraft type in the same area as Ryrholm, so did the world famous Swedish American pilot Charles Lindbergh. Many presume his flying career ended prior to WWII, but here is just one of several articles about Lindbergh´s war service in the Pacific. For more Swedish American wartime fates see my book Swedes at War (with Lennart Westberg).

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