Edward Ryan, 90, Dies; Retired CIA Station Chief Collected Paper Toy Soldiers

Edward Ryan, a World War II naval officer, amassed a nationally notable collection of paper toy soldiers over his lifetime.
Edward Ryan, a World War II naval officer, amassed a nationally notable collection of paper toy soldiers over his lifetime. (Family Photo)
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Edward Ryan, 90, a retired CIA station chief who amassed one of the largest collections of paper toy soldiers in the United States, died Aug. 29 of pulmonary fibrosis at his home in Chevy Chase.

Mr. Ryan was a Navy veteran of World War II and was working for the Office of Naval Intelligence when he transferred in the late 1940s to the newly established CIA. He served in Stockholm, Paris and Berlin, and he was chief of base in Berlin.

During his career, he directed the CIA office that collects signals intelligence and also was chairman of the agency's fine arts commission, a job in which he oversaw the installation in the headquarters lobby of the 1973 memorial to agency personnel who have died in the line of service.

When he retired from the CIA in 1980, he received the Intelligence Medal of Merit and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

Meanwhile, his collection of paper toy soldiers -- in perpetual formation on shelves in the library and basement of his home -- grew into one of the most extensive in the country, according to a 1999 profile in The Washington Post.

He first began collecting toy soldiers as a child in the 1920s, an interest fueled by reading pulp adventure stories about World War I. At first, he and his brother made their own soldiers out of clothespins. Then they began buying figures of lead and wood. But he never forgot a set of paper soldiers his father bought him in 1928 during a family vacation to Paris.

"On the ship coming home, I cut them out and played with them," he told The Post. "I still have a few of them."

Mr. Ryan, the son of a surgeon, was born Feb. 20, 1919, in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1936, he received a bachelor's degree in English from Yale University, where was a member of the track team and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

During World War II, he was aboard the light cruiser Birmingham in the Pacific when it went to the aid of the aircraft carrier Princeton, which had been heavily damaged in an air attack during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On the afternoon of Oct. 24, 1944, explosions rocked the Princeton, possibly caused by bombs exploding in the ship's magazine, showering debris over the Birmingham and killing hundreds of its crew members.

Mr. Ryan received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, among other decorations.

He studied Russian at the Navy Language School toward the end of World War II and was posted to the American consulate in the Russian port city of Vladivostok. When the Soviet government requested that the U.S. Navy withdraw Mr. Ryan, the sole military officer at that post, he was reassigned to Helsinki.

Mr. Ryan spoke French, German and Swedish as well as Russian and Finnish.

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