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Highly decorated Army colonel comes out as gay in obituary

'Now that my secret is known, I'll forever rest in peace,' Vietnam vet pens in farewell

By Ehren Wynder

June 13 (UPI) -- After living a life of secrecy, a decorated Vietnam veteran came out as gay in his obituary.

Army Col. Edward Thomas Ryan of New York, who recently lost a battle with intestinal cancer, disclosed his secret in a message in his obituary published on June 8 by the Albany Times Union.

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"I must tell you one more thing,' the message read. "I was gay all my life: through grade school, through high school, through college, through life."

Despite keeping his sexuality hidden from most of the world, Ryan said in the obituary that he had a 25-year relationship with the "love of my life" Paul Cavagnaro.

The obit said Cavagnaro died in 1994 "from a medical procedure gone wrong."

After serving in the Army's 10th Brigade, Ryan went on to work as a firefighter and help found the radio station WHRL-FM in Albany.

For most of Ryan's military career, same-sex relations were grounds for discharge.

Despite being awarded several prestigious medals, including the National Defense Service Medal and the Defense of Liberty Medal for services rendered after the 9/11 terrorist attack, he feared being ostracized by family, friends and colleagues.

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"Seeing how people like me were treated, I just could not do it," his letter read. "Now that my secret is known, I'll forever rest in peace."

His nephew, Joseph Ryan, told the New York Post that his uncle's sexuality, and his relationship with Cavagnaro, was something of an open secret in the family.

"They would go on vacation. Once he did retire, he would take a month off, and they would just put down where they wanted to go, any place in the world," he said.

"So, we kind of knew, but he wasn't one that would come right out and say anything ... Our family isn't one that tries to say anything about people."

Joseph Ryan said his uncle's final message was a long time coming, but it's especially significant that it happened during Pride Month.

"He was quiet, but he was bold. It's been inside him all this time," he said.

Days after his obituary was published, about 150 people wrote messages of support for the late Ryan.

"May you rest peacefully in the arms of your forever love. I'm so sorry that you never felt safe to be your authentic self," one person said. "Your bravery followed you beyond death."

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Another person wrote of Ryan, "a fine American. A life of service that continues with his final wishes to share his truth so others may learn of love."

Ryan, who presumably contracted intestinal cancer from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, had donated his body to the Anatomical Gift Program at Albany Medical College.

After medical study on his cadaver, his remains will be cremated and buried alongside Cavagnaro.

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