Kathleen Ranney

There are now famous words that Mike wrote in a letter to Major Richard Winters.

““In thinking back on the days of Easy Company, I’m treasuring my remark to a grandson who asked, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ “No,” I answered, “but I served in a company of heroes.” Mike Ranney then signed the letter “Your Easy Company Comrade.””

In an interview, Mike Ranney’s daughter Drew commented, “He was a prolific letter writer and often wrote to his former company commander, Dick Winters, who saved everything he received. After Dad died in 1988 at age sixty-six from a heart attack, Dick sent us a bound folder of all the letters Dad had ever sent him.”

But who was the man that sent those letters? I wanted to learn more about him and was blessed to have time chatting with one of his daughters.

Let’s meet Kathleen.

Kathleen with George Luz Jr

Can you tell me a little about you and your Band of Brothers connection.

I’m the oldest of the five Ranney girls. Dad didn’t talk with us much about his wartime experiences. But we hung out with his Easy buddies when they lived nearby. In Evanston, it was medic Al Mampre and his family. His daughter Virginia and I were confirmed together. Growing up just South of San Francisco, Dick was the guy who sent us massive Christmas packages of Hershey chocolates. We hung out at times the Burr Smith, Pat Christensen and their families.

Dad and Dick became close friends after the war ended. I connected with Dick after Dad passed away. Dick tracked me down to invite the family to the premier at The Hollywood Bowl. He apologised profusely for not locating me in time for family members to attend the Normandy premier. I had the great fortune to attend Dick’s memorial service in Hershey where I connected with many Easy kids I’d never met and to spend time with the veterans in attendance.

What is your earliest memory of your dad?

Both he and mom earned journalism degrees from the university of North Dakota. Words were very important in our house. When I was very young, we lived in Richfield MN where Dad was the night editor of The Tribune. When got home in the morning, I’d sit on his lap as he taught me my ABCs from the newspaper. I was three.

What is your favourite memory of your dad and why?

Oh boy, this is a hard one. So many to pick from. But the one that often pops up when I think of Dad, which is often, is how he was the cool neighbourhood Dad when we lived in Evanston. He was the one out throwing footballs or teaching a kid to ride a bike or packing our station wagon with kids to go get ice cream cones on a hot summer day.

I also treasure the hours Dad and I spent in our garage in California restoring old cars. My favorite was a ‘36 Ford Woodie station wagon I loved that car. I’d throw a surfboard in the back and head to Santa Cruz

What can you tell me about his life in journalism?

When I tell people the places that I had lived by the time I finished sixth grade, they often asked in Dad was in the military. No, just working his way up the ladder! He worked for the Grand Forks Herald. From there we moved to Sioux City where my sister Chris was born. The next stop was the Minneapolis Tribune and then on to the Chicago tribune where we lived in Evanston. Middle sister Drew was born there. 

Dad was wooed away from journalism into public relations. This resulted in our move to California right after I finished sixth grade. My second youngest sister was conceived in Illinois but born in California the November we moved there. Dad enjoyed public relations and decided to strike out on his own, forming the San Francisco based Ranney Company. I worked there summers while in junior high and high school. I loved it. His company was bought by a Midwest based firm. I ended up working for the San Francisco office full time for two years after I got married in 1969. Dad ended up in PR positions with various corporations. Later in life, he returned to his newspaper roots working for several small California weeklies.

Name 5 qualities that your dad had that you admired in him. Why did you choose those particular qualities.

There are so many! But here we go.

Dad’s insatiable curiosity about the world around him and his eagerness to try new things like learning to play the piano in his forties. Everything interested Dad and he instilled in me the love of learning about new things. Back then, if i had a question about something, Dad sent me to our encyclopaedia. If I could not find it there, he’d take me to the public library. I became a card catalog jockey. This served me very well in my academic career.

Dad’s insistence that you perform any tasks assigned to you to the very best of your ability. Doing a half-assed job never was acceptable. He taught to take pride in everything I did. Yes, he was demanding, and the young Kathy often chafed at his demand.

Dad’s insistence on using proper grammar and appropriate words. He corrected any inaccuracies or mistakes until the day he died. He taught me how much words matter and to choose them very carefully. This definitely honed my speaking and especially writing skills, both important attributes for a professor. I’m that person who cringes when I see grammar and spelling errors on social media!

Dad’s love of exploring the outdoors. He’d load everyone up in our country squire station wagon filled with camping gear and we just hit the road. We’d noodle around until we found a spot that looked promising, usually near a stream. Now mom when she had two babies in diapers (the two youngest Ranney girls were only 17 months apart) would not have initiated these trips but she was a good sport. This love of exploring surroundings stays with me to this day. I enjoy rides in the country with no specific destination in mind. They are good for the soul.

Dad playing the role of devil’s advocate. You couldn’t simply make a statement. You had to back it up. We had very lively dinner table conversations. Sometimes they were enjoyable but others so frustrating. Again, this is related to the importance of words and not being able to get away with unsubstantiated assertions. They did not fly! A useful and necessary skill an academic researcher must have.

Yes, I know you asked for five, but I can’t leave this out.  Dad’s deep love for his two families, his relatives by blood or marriage and his Easy family that he referred to as his second family.

Did he ever talk of his war experiences?

No, he didn’t talk about them with his daughters. Instead, he’d gather nearby Easy comrades together now and then. We learned about some of his experiences when he wrote the autobiography of his first 60 years as a Christmas gift for his daughters.

How did his experiences in World War II affect him?

In reading the autobiography and knowing Dad, I think one of the events that haunted him was losing Salty Harris, his closest Easy comrade, in Normandy. After the Sobel mutiny Dad and Salty were booted out of Easy. Dad went to I Company and Salty to A company They both then found their way to the Pathfinders.

As the Normandy invasion loomed, Dad wanted to go to battle with his Easy comrades and was able to get transferred back within a few days of D-Day but Salty didn’t get transferred back. He was killed by a sniper during the battle for Carentan and is buried at Colleville. I always stop and have a chat with him when I visit.

He also carried the guilt of not being there with Easy until the end of their journey. Through a lack of attention to what he was doing while cleaning his gun and shooting himself in the leg because all bullets weren’t removed, he was in a hospital ship on his way home late in 1944. The bullet shattered his leg and despite several corrective surgeries the leg never was restored to full functionality.

How did those war experiences affect family life?

Making observations based on memories that are decades old is a bit challenging. But my dad was a bit mercurial. Very happy and upbeat one day when he got home from work. The next day he might arrive in full drill Sargent mode, being critical of tasks not done to his satisfaction. I do believe he suffered from what then was labeled shell shock or battle fatigue since the PTSD term has not yet been coined

While watching Band of Brothers, did you learn anything about your dad that you were unaware of?

No and there was a reason behind that.  In large part, it was because Dad’s role with Easy was minimised especially when it came to his pivotal role in the mutiny. Lipton’s role was elevated and enhanced for two primary reasons. One, Lipton was portrayed by Donnie Wahlberg a known actor. And, per an in-person conversation with Tom Hanks, there were only so many characters that could be developed fully so more focus was placed on Easy Co men who were there to the end.

The last words are taken from Marcus Brothertons book, “A Company of Heroes” and belong to Mike himself who said,

“At the ripe age of 61, I find myself blessed with good friends, warm memories, more serenity than I’ve ever known, and hundreds of ambitious dreams for the future. This past year has been a fine one for me. During the holidays I will be with all my children, and the prospects for the year ahead are bright and full of promise. What more could a man ask? Or what more might a person wish for friends, such as you? Good luck and sleep warm. Myron N. (Mike) Ranney”