SAN ANGELO, Texas — When Memorial Oak Grove was first established, the grove was missing one tree, “The Missing Oak” which represents Jay Arthur Ryan whose death remained unknown for several years after World War II and the monument’s dedication.
According to ASU’s West Texas Collection, Ryan was formally recognized with an oak tree in his memory in 2007. However, the younger tree couldn’t be planted in Memorial Oak Grove. The tree is still within the vicinity and is included in the annual recognition at the ASU Veteran’s Vigil.
The missing soldier’s identity was discovered when an archivist with the WT Collection came across a story about his death in the Standard-Times and found his enrollment with San Angelo College. The plaque in front of the living memorial was then replaced to include his name in 2007.
Ryan served as First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army with E Company, 31st Infantry Regiment in the Philippines during World War II. He was taken as a prisoner of war after a Japanese invasion and was placed in the islands until December 1944, when he was transferred to the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan and then to the Brazil Maru according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
The transport ships for POWS lacked markings that would distinguish them from other military targets leading to them being attacked by Allied forces who could not identify them as POW transports. The Oryoku Maru transport Ryan was on was attacked by Allied aircraft on December 14, 1944, and the survivors of the bombing were placed on the Enoura Maru, which was attacked on January 9, 1945, and the Brazil Maru transports.
Ryan died on January 16, 1945, from wounds sustained during the earlier attacks, and was buried at sea. Ryan’s remains could not be identified following the war and he is still considered unaccounted for and non-recoverable.
First Lieutenant Ryan is memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines and Angelo State Universities Memorial Oak Grove.