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Defenders of Freedom

Thomas Byrne: ‘It was good for me’

Thomas “Red” Byrne may no longer be a young man, but he still appears every bit the U.S. Marine.

Husky and fit, Byrne, 85, recalled his days serving as a young Marine more than 60 years ago.

From 1953 to 1956, Byrne served as a telephone lineman overseas and stateside.

“I kept the telephone lines in service,” he said. “Whatever it took to keep communications running.”

Byrne keeps a photograph album of his days in the military. Included is a color picture of him working on a utility pole.

He might have ended up fighting a war, but by the time he was going through boot camp at Camp Pendleton, Calif., a truce had been called in the Korean Conflict involving U.S. troops.

He did go through combat training before being shipped off to Korea, working as a telephone lineman as part of an 11-man squad.

Byrne, a graduate of the former St. Mary’s High School, said he joined the Marines to prevent from being drafted.

He said he was somewhat gung ho about going to Korea with the possibility of fighting for his country.

Byrne and five other young men from the Williamsport area went into the Marines together.

They included Jon Stryer and Albert “Bucky” Lambert.

Stryker, he recalled, had the bunk just above him in boot camp.

Boot camp, he recalled, as “kind of crazy,” at least for the first few days.

But it was also a busy time, and he learned the Marine way of doing things.

“It was good training,” he said. “It was good for me.”

After his enlistment ended, Byrne came back to Lycoming County and worked odd jobs.

He studied tool and design at the former Williamsport Technical Institute and later worked a short stint as a deputy sheriff.

Eventually, he went to work for PennDOT, first in Montoursville and later in Harrisburg

In 1994, he retired and settled in Loyalsock Township with his wife, the former Sue Heinz, of Shunk, Sullivan County.

The couple raised a son and daughter. Byrne also has a son from a previous marriage.

These days, he spends time with veterans groups, including the Deer X-ing Detatchment, Ralston.

“It’s a good organization,” he said. “We have our own color guard. We help local people out in need.”

He is a life member of American Legion Post 104, Montoursville.

For a time, he was involved raising money for multiple sclerosis, a disease that crippled his mother.

Byrne and his wife spend a lot of time near Wellsville, N.Y. where they maintain a large property.

“It’s some place for Sue and me to get lost,” he said with a laugh.

He exercises daily.

Looking back on his military days, Byrne said while it’s not a time he would be particularly eager to repeat, he’s still glad he experienced it.