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Memorial Day: Wounded WHS grad continues to give to his country
When Ryan Onufer was a student at Waccamaw High School in the late 1990s, he wanted to join the military.
His grandfather, George Onufer, was a decorated Eighth Air Force bomber pilot in World War II. Onufer called him “a very strict guy” and somebody he wanted to emulate. “I always wanted to serve,” Onufer said. As a member of Pawleys Island Baptist Church, he went on mission trips to the Dominican Republic and learned to speak some Spanish.
When his mother feared the military would be too hard, Onufer decided to join the Marines. “That made me want to do the hardest thing, the one with a tight brotherhood” he said.
America will remember the men and women killed in the line of duty Monday during Memorial Day. Ryan Onufer has given — and continues to give — all he has for his country. “I’ve had every kind of seizure there is,” he said. “I can’t stop them.”
The seizures are the result of brain injuries he suffered during two explosions. The first was in Japan and left him technically blind for six months. He recovered and went on to become a sniper in a Surveillance and Target Acquisition Platoon. He called on the training he had received as a teen-ager in Pawleys Island. “I was good with a rifle because of my mentor, the late Don Scott, a master gunnery sergeant. “He did a lot for me when I was young, taught me how shoot.” Onufer said Scott would ask him to shoot the wings off a dragonfly. “He wouldn’t let me stop till I did,” he said.
Onufer said it took him nine tries to make sniper. A sergeant, he was attached to Marine units in South America and Africa. “I met some interesting people who worked for our government,” he said.
He can’t talk about the second explosion that has left him disabled. A friend beside him was killed. “That’s what did me in,” Onufer said. “At that point, I was done. It’s something I’m still dealing with.”
Though unconscious, Onufer suffered powerful seizures that left him with a broken collarbone and lower back. He was honorably discharged for medical reasons and had a few good years where he began building houses around Murrells Inlet. The seizures came back in 2008, and Onufer began falling. He broke his collarbone and a shoulder and cracked his head open.
Little did he know that he would have one more fight on his hands. This time it would be the Veterans Administration.
It took until just last year for the VA to finally acknowledge Onufer’s injuries as combat related. Onufer’s father contacted Sen. Tim Scott, who got personally involved with his son’s case. “He made stuff happen,” Onufer said.
He received his disability award letter from the government, and that set the bureaucracy’s wheels in motion. “If you are 100 percent disabled, you are not able to work or function fully,” Onufer said. He is considered 280 percent disabled because of the injuries he suffered and his health issues and can finally rent a place to live.
Onufer will soon undergo back surgery and worries that it will leave him in a wheelchair. “The back surgery scares me,” he said, “but I’m getting better now.”