Second Lieutenant Jack Heber Lyon

Insignia of VMF-111, the Devil Dogs

Service Number: O-006998

Birth and Early Life:
Few details of Jack Lyon’s early life are known. Upon enlisting, he named his wife as his next-of-kin, and claimed Seattle, Washington as his home town. (1)

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Lyon enlisted in Spokane on September 17, 1940. He was designated a Student Naval Aviation Pilot. By December 9, Lyon had completed the preliminary requirements for further training, and was accepted as a cadet at Puget Sound Navy Yard. He would earn his wings and his commission in 1941.

Wartime Service:
On March 21, 1942, Jack Lyon and a host of other pilots boarded the USS Procyon at San Diego, and set sail for Samoa. Upon his arrival, he was assigned to VMF-111, the “Devil Dogs,” who were anxiously awaiting something else from the Procyon – their allotment of 19 F4F Wildcat fighters. Every man on the island had heard of the demise of Wake Island, and many rightly figured that they were in a similarly sacrificial position – one pilot, R. Bruce Porter, recalled that “Our job was simply to attack Japanese warships as far out at sea as we could find them and, failing that, to defend the beaches when the dreaded invasion force landed. As had already happened at Wake, those of us who survived air combat were expected to fight as infantry once our Wildcats could no longer be flown. We were expendable. Our only purpose out there was to buy time for our nation to train and equip the hundreds of Navy, Marine, and Air Corps squadrons yet to be formed.” (2)

Training continued through the spring and summer as news of the fall of Corregidor, the defense of Midway and the victory in the Coral Sea filtered through to the Americans on Samoa. The threat to Samoa was not lifted, and strong emphasis was placed on practicing fighter gunnery in mock dogfights.

Date Of Loss:
July 26, 1942, was supposed to be routine: practice flights, including a few mock dogfights. However, it would end with the first of many losses the squadron would suffer during the war.

We suffered our first fatality during this period, while six of us, in two three-plane elements, were practicing formation dogfighting. The two elements had just completed a head-on mock firing pass and I was recovering to the left, when I saw that 2nd Lieutenant Jack Lyons’s [sic] F4F had broken from the opposing formation and was spiraling nose-first toward the sea. I had no idea why Lyons was diving, but he looked to be in trouble, and I instinctively dived away after him. Jack never got out of the airplane; I saw no sign of life in the cockpit. The F4F plunged straight into the water and was never seen again. I learned within a minute that Jack had swept ahead of and too close to his element leader and that the element leader’s propeller had cut through Jack’s F4F right behind the cockpit. Jack doubtless had zero control over his fighter in the wake of the collision, and he could very well have been too dazed or injured to react. Or perhaps his cockpit canopy had become stuck on its rails while Jack was trying to bail out. Whatever the case, Jack Lyons died when his Wildcat dived into the water. (3)

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Jack Lyon

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Memorial:
Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
_____
NOTES:
(1) The ABMC memorial for Lt. Lyon records that he was originally from Montana, however no definite census records have been located to confirm this.
(2) Porter, R. Bruce with Eric Hammel. “Ace! A Marine Night-Fighter Pilot in World War II.”
(3) Ibid. The serial number of Lyon’s aircraft is not known; the only loss recorded by the Aviation Archaeology database for July 26, 1942 was an F4F flown by a VMO-251 pilot, Lt. George Kohler.

4 thoughts on “Second Lieutenant Jack Heber Lyon

  1. I have a official microfilm report of USN & USMC WW2 aircraft losses which shows five F4F-3s lost about this time, as below:
    9 Jun 1942 Buno 1859 Coded 35J
    21 Jul 1942. Buno 1851. Coded 35Z. Pilot CAPT D.H. Yost.
    3 Aug 1942. Buno 1863. Coded 35E
    3 Aug 1942. Buno 1884. Coded 35Z. Unknown pilot survived
    3 Aug 1942 Buno 1891. Coded 35E
    I have never found a comprehensive guide to the loss codes of the WW2 period but from known details of loss circumstances believe the E code suffix indicates a midair collision, suggesting Lyon was in 1863 or 1891. Perhaps the USMC History and Museums Division at Quantico holds the VMF-111 reports for the period.

    1. Hi Jason – thank you for your comment and the data! Lieutenant Lyon’s aircraft ID has remained a mystery to me. I’ve checked the war diaries and history of VMF-111, but they are astonishingly vague about their time in Samoa (the writer admits as much, and provides only a summary of their movements during this period) and Jack Lyon doesn’t appear by name or by circumstance in either. The history for MAG-13, their parent unit, skips July 1942 entirely (although BuNo 1859 may have been the plane described as “during the month [June 1942] one F4f_3 forced down in water 15 miles east of Apia, Upolu. No injuries to pilot, plane lost.”)

      Lyon is recorded in the squadron’s muster roll as lost July 26, 1942:

      Again, unfortunately, these rolls are vague as well and do not record with whom he collided or any other information regarding aircraft losses. All I can learn from those is that luckily no other flyers were injured, and the following month’s rolls aren’t available online to check for the incidents occurring on August 3 – and if Lyon was piloting one of those aircraft, an explanation for reporting the loss so late.

      Much as I would like, I haven’t been able to cross check my information for every Marine with the historical branch at Quantico – it’s a long way from home and an expensive process to order records – and I hope someday that such records will either be made available online or that I’ll be able to spend many weeks there getting all the information I can. If you’re doing research there, I can’t recommend them highly enough – the staff is absolutely beyond compare; helpful and sympathetic doesn’t begin to describe them.

      Again, thank you for the information – I will let you know if I turn up anything more on Lt. Jack Lyon, and hope you will do the same.

      Geoffrey

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