Bravery. Valor. Heroism. These often-employed words are somewhat hard to perfectly define. I prefer the word "Valor:" strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness; personal bravery; the absence of indecision, even in the face of death. Though difficult to precisely define, you know it when you see it: 1st. Lieutenant JAMES O. LYONS - the father of me and Roberta Lyons Nolan - the father we never knew. An MIA/POW, of the 106th Infantry Division (The "Golden Lions" Div.), he was captured 21 Dec, 1944, and held as a POW during the "Battle of the Bulge."
James O. "Jimmy" Lyons was born to George and Nellie Lyons on 7 Sep, 1909, in Maybrook, NY. He was one of five brothers, all of whom would later be in one service branch or another, during WWII. His only sister, Rosemary, adored him. He graduated from Maybrook High School on 25 June, 1929. Shortly after that, he moved to New Brunswick, NJ, with his family. A decade later, the winds of war would be blowing and, finally, the U. S. would be at war with Japan, Germany and the AXIS powers. He was inducted into the Army on 18 Oct, 1942, at the age of 33. His age would serve him well, however: in basic training he instantly became the "old man" of his platoon, and was quickly promoted to corporal, mentoring "the kids." This would be the first of several rapid promotions in the months to follow.
After basic training at Camp Shelby, MS, he arrives at Fort Benning, GA, where he was selected for OCS school. Shortly after, he gets a new serial number as a 2nd Lieutenant, marries Sally Lepping while on furlough, on 16 Jan 43, then it was on to Fort McClellan, Alabama for advanced Infantry training. My mother joins him there in September, he is commissioned a 1st. Lieutenant, named Co. XO, and I am born on 30 Dec, 1943. In June of '44 he is sent to Camp Atterbury, IN, where the 106th ID is forming up for deployment to Europe.
Lieut. Lyons, a green combat soldier of the 106th ID, leaves Camp Atterbury, Indiana, and is enroute to the ETO (European Theatre Of Operations) specifically the Ardennes, in Belgium/Luxembourg. He departs Point of Embarkation at Boston, on 10 November, 1944 and arrives in England 17 November. He is assigned to VIII Corps, 1st Army, 12th Army Group, commanded by Gen. Omar Bradley. He arrives at the port of Le Havre, France, on 6 December, and finally, the front (Schnee Eifel), on 11 December.
Lieutenant Lyons is ordered to take charge of an 81mm Mortar platoon. In the 5 days that follow, there are frequent, but small skirmishes with German troops along the 24 mile front, which is thinly defended by U.S. forces. In fact, the Ardennes was considered a quiet sector, so economy-of-force considerations led it to be used as a training ground for new units and a rest area ("rest & refit") for units that had seen hard fighting.
That would all change in the early morning hours of December 16th, 1944, when all hell broke loose! At about 5:30 AM, the Fifth Panzer Army attacked positions held by the U.S. 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions. During the period of 16 December and 21 December, Lt. Lyons and his mortar squads delivered offensive fire, and constantly repositioned the mortars, in order to avoid receiving return fire. During this period, all three mortar positions eventually were hit, and damaged or destroyed. Lt. Lyons courageously gathered together the men and the munitions that remained from the three positions, and consolidated them all into one fully functional mortar squad, where they continued offensive fire until ammunition was depleted.
On 21 Dec (my mother's birthday), the Germans, in a pincer movement, surrounded and forced the surrender of the two regiments of the 106th ID., almost 8,000 men. The official U.S. Army history states: "At least 8,000 thousand men, perhaps more, were lost here. The Schnee Eifel battle, therefore, represents the most serious reversal suffered by American arms during the operations of 1944-45 in the European theater." Said another way, it was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in WWII.
21 December was the first day of the capture and imprisonment of thousands of U.S. soldiers, including Lieutenant Lyons. Within a few days, the War Dept. notified his parents and his wife Sally, that he was being detained as POW # 71893. In the weeks that followed, he and thousands of other soldiers were transported by truck and then train, essentially hop-scotching their way from POW camps, to Stalags (for enlisted men), to Offlags (for officers only). Eventually, POW # 71893 was assigned to Offlag 13-B near Hammelburg, Germany.
The next four and a half months would be, in a word, grim. The horrible conditions, the weather, the diet they were forced to endure, and the despicable treatment by the guards, would combine to exact a high price: nearly 15% would die, 70% would be severely weakened by dysentery, pneumonia,malnutrition, or exposure. Daily life in a POW site has been well-documented. He was liberated by Patton's 3rd Army on 16 April, 1945, and repatriated to Camp Kilmer, NJ, on 28 April, 1945.
Upon his repatriation, hospitalized, he was given two pieces of news: His father, George, had died just weeks earlier, and the second, more joyful, was that he had become the father of a daughter, Roberta. She never felt his touch or heard his voice. He never saw us again: He died on 15 May, 1945,from malnutrition/pneumonia as a result of his imprisonment and maltreatment by the German Army.
The characteristics of his heroism, such as courage, fortitude, endurance, intrepidity, and being lionhearted, were his legacy to us. And these gifts served us well in our personal battles with cancer, disease, and the grief endured by a spouse's death. They also were indispensable in helping us to achieve personal goals that were often both distant and lofty. I hope we have done well with the time we've been given by his sacrifice. I believe he would smile, and say "mission accomplished." One word that would have described him then, and us now, would be "Lyonshearted." If only we could have known him.
– In loving memory - James E. Lyons –