Baytown paratrooper found dead in Italy

Ryan James Jr.

A 20-year-old paratrooper from Baytown died at his military residence in Italy Sept. 7, according to a statement the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force.

Services for Ryan James Jr. are tentatively planned for Friday, his great-aunt, Barbara Wilson, said.

James was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy. He was found unresponsive in his barracks, the statement from the army said.

“Spc. Ryan James was an intensely passionate and driven paratrooper who served his country admirably,” said Lt. Col. Kevin M. Ward, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment.

“His strength of character, work ethic and remarkable maturity consistently built up those around him. During Spc. James’ first week in the battalion, he placed a bet that he would don a Ranger Tab within his first two years in the unit; he was well on his way to 

achieving that goal.” Ward said.

His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Army Service ribbon and the Army Parachutist Badge.

James’ death is under investigation, the statement said.

He is survived by his parents, Ryan James Sr. and Shelleen James.

Wilson said James graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 2019 and enlisted in the Army in December of that year.

He had the opportunity of a football scholarship, she said, but said he wanted to go into the Army.

Wilson said he was not able to come home right after basic training because of COVID-19 concerns but visited home in July.

“From a baby he’s been an extraordinary young man,” his great-aunt said. “You never came in contact with Ryan Jr. without him being so very polite. I go to the same church with him; he was willing to do anything you asked him to do.”

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