Photo by Frank Couch.
George and Marynell Winslow have fond memories of their son, Ryan Winslow, a Marine who was killed in Iraq 9½ years ago.
It has been almost 10 years since Hoover native Ryan Winslow was killed by a bomb in Iraq, but the pain of losing him is still all too real for his parents, George and Marynell Winslow.
They still vividly remember the day in April 2006 when two Marines in green uniforms came to their door to inform them their 19-year-old son had been killed just three weeks into a seven-month tour in Iraq.
Ryan was one of three scouts for the 2nd Tank Battalion killed when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
Marynell said she gave the two Marines who came to her home a hard time, telling them they must have come to the wrong house — that her son couldn’t have been the one killed.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she said.
The news struck Ryan’s father hard as well.
“It’s kind of like getting slammed in the chest with a sledgehammer. That’s the only way I could describe it,” George Winslow said.
Marynell Winslow had tried to talk her son out of joining the Marines because she considered it too dangerous. She suggested Ryan join the Navy instead, hoping he would be farther out of harm’s way, but “he wouldn’t have any part of it,” she said. “He wanted to be out on the front lines.”
Since then, the Winslows have done everything they can to help people remember Ryan and other military members who died on active duty. They also have poured their lives into honoring veterans and helping those who struggle to re-enter civilian life.
Ryan’s name will be on the Alabama portion of a national memorial that will visit the Hyatt Regency Birmingham — The Wynfrey Hotel on Nov. 2-6, which is Veterans Week in Hoover. The memorial shows the names and photos of 111 Alabamians who died in the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.
George Winslow was asked to be the Alabama organizer for the national effort, which is called “Remembering our Fallen.” It originated in Omaha, Neb., a few years ago and is spreading to all 50 states.
In addition to being at the Hyatt Regency, the memorial will also be at the Alabama-Mississippi State game in Starkville on Nov. 14 and in Auburn for two weekends, including Iron Bowl Saturday on Nov. 28, he said.
This is just one of many veterans’ initiatives in which the Winslows are involved.
In 2007, Marynell Winslow founded a nonprofit called Alabama Gold Star Families, which recognizes U.S. military members who died serving their country and supports their families. The Winslows were instrumental in creating the Alabama Gold Star Families license plate for close family members of those killed on active duty.
The group raised $45,000 for a monument at American Village in Montevallo, in honor of those who died in the War on Terror. It will be dedicated soon, Marynell Winslow said. George Winslow serves on the city of Hoover’s Veterans Committee and the support committee for the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo.
Alabama Gold Star Families also worked to get a section of Interstate 65 in Chilton County designated as the War on Terror Memorial Highway and raised $3,000 to put the signs up, she said.
Marynell is president of the Alabama chapter of American Gold Star Mothers. For the past six years, the group has laid wreaths on veterans’ graves at Jefferson Memorial Gardens off John Hawkins Parkway, where Ryan and about 640 other veterans are buried.
The Winslows also have been heavily involved with Three Hots and a Cot, a nonprofit that helps homeless veterans transition back into society. Their help has included painting, decoration and landscaping at the nonprofit’s group homes and an annual Christmas dinner.
In 2012, the organization decided to rename its Clay veterans’ home the Ryan Winslow Veterans Center. A local “Devil Dog” Marine Corps honor society also is named after him, as well as the Hoover American Legion Post 911.
“I just thought the thing to do was to name the post after a hometown hero,” Post 911 President Ron Bradstreet said. “His parents do all kinds of great things for veterans in the Birmingham metropolitan area.”
Ryan’s sacrifice and his parents’ generosity have inspired others to give back to the Winslows. They have received a U.S. flag flown over the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, as well as cross-stitch, oil paintings and a bronze bust in Ryan’s honor. The fifth-grade teachers at Bluff Park Elementary School each year give out a Ryan Winslow Patriotism Award at the school’s awards day and invite the Winslows to attend.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Marynell Winslow said. “We’ve had so many incredible acts of kindness. You really can find out how good people can be when you go through something like this.”
Having people remember Ryan means so much, the Winslows said.
“Ryan was a very honest, funny and caring young man,” his father said. “He had a lot of empathy for people who were not treated right.”
He always had an interest in firearms and wanted to be a police officer since he was 4 years old, his father said.
Ryan attended Hoover High School and took criminal justice classes at Jefferson State Community College, but decided to join the military for on-the-job training after his second semester, the Winslows said. After his death, the Hoover Police Department made him an honorary police officer.
The work the Winslows do now is designed to make sure their son and others who gave their lives are not forgotten, they said.
“If you don’t make some effort to keep all those names in front of people’s eyes, people are going to forget about the sacrifices so many have made and how many families miss their loved ones because of the price they paid,” Marynell Winslow said.
It’s just something they’re driven to do, George Winslow said. “He had the guts to get over there and fight for his country. It’s the least we can do for him and others.”