Army served as start of Girard couple’s love
GIRARD — When Lia Pagano Byrne and Dr. Gordon Byrne made the decision to serve their country in the military, they did not know it would help focus their career paths, offer travel opportunities and even assist them in finding love.
“I met Lia the first week in class at officer’s training basic in San Antonio, Texas,” Gordon Byrne said.
It must have been fate for the man who grew up in Connecticut and the woman raised in Girard to meet.
“Our officer’s training basic class was made up of 300 people, mostly nurses, doctors and dentists,” Pagano Byrne said.
Her first taste of military service was playing the flute in the Warren Junior Military Band from ages 12 to 20.
“Squire (Donald Hurrelbrink, band director) taught us about duty, honor, country. Ironically, it’s the West Point motto. Our son, Dante, just left for his first year at West Point,” Pagano Byrne said.
Their daughter, Francesca, is a business major at Youngstown State University.
Her husband followed his older brother, a retired Army Ranger, to Virginia Military Institute after his 1986 graduation from Weston High School.
“I didn’t get much guidance from my guidance counselor. I had my brother go to VMI (Virginia Military Institute). I thought, ‘That sounds cool. I want to do that,'” Byrne said.
After graduating from Girard High School in 1984, Pagano Byrne went to Kent State University to study nursing.
“A friend was taking classes at Army ROTC. She said, ‘Why don’t you take a class and see if you like it? There are no strings attached.’ I loved it and they offered me a three-year scholarship, and then I owed them (four) years in the military after graduation,” Pagano Byrne said.
She followed her family into the military and the medical field.
“My dad, Sam Pagano, was in ROTC. My brother and sister were in medical school, so my family was supportive and probably happy I was getting a full scholarship,” she said.
Gordon Byrne graduated from VMI with a major in Spanish and a minor in French. He decided to fulfill his military service in the Army. Then, he had to choose a field to pursue.
“I had a strong science and math background, so the Army put me in the Medical Service Corps. It is like medical administration,” he said.
After dating for three months and completing the officer’s training program, they received their first assignments. He went to Baumholder in Germany and she to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., which now is a rehab facility. They dated long distance for three years and got engaged in Germany when she visited. They married in November 1993.
“After Germany, I left active duty and decided to go to chiropractic school. I chose a school in Marietta, Georgia, where Lia could transfer nearby to finish her Army fulfillment. I joined the National Guard there. Lia transferred to Fort Gordon in Augusta. It was about two-and-a-half hours from my school,” Byrne said.
His guard unit was activated during the bombing at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.
Pagano Byrne completed her Army stint and moved to Marietta with her husband.
“I graduated in 1997, and Lia wanted to move back to Girard. She has a large Italian family. I have a small family that is scattered all over. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go back to Girard,'” Byrne said.
Between 1997 and 2000, Byrne interned with local doctors. He opened his own office in 2000 in Girard.
On her return, Pagano Byrne worked at St. Elizabeth Hospital and as a substitute teacher. She was a substitute nurse and worked at Hospice House. In 2018, she became the full-time school nurse at Girard Junior-Senior High School.
While establishing his Girard practice, Byrne stayed in the U.S. Army Reserve. In 2008, he returned to active duty to ready his unit for deployment to Iraq. For three years, he ran the unit and in the fourth year, he was deployed to Iraq for 18 months from 2010 to 2011.
“It was my final deployment and then I finished in the Reserve until 2015,” he said.
After 24 years, he retired in 2015 as a major. He is a chiropractic physician and provides occupational health at his offices in Girard and North Lima.
Both Byrnes view their military experience in a positive light.
“A lot of my success is due to the military because of the foundation they give you, the discipline, the personal accountability, the courage. You are tested, (and learn) time management, structure and organization,” Byrne said.
Pagano Byrne added, “You learn teamwork, working well with people and maintaining positivity.”
Byrne said his military travel brought him to countries where people are less fortunate, and it made him appreciate even more what U.S. citizens have.