Yesterday America lost a great man, Admiral James “Ace” Lyons (retired). He was a patriot, a warrior, a leader, a husband, father and friend. At age 91, he continued writing a semi-regular column. What turned out to be his final column was written just last month.
I got to know him when I interviewed him for a show I was hosting back in 2013. The main topic was Benghazi, which he had been commenting on, and I wanted to delve further into his knowledge and theories about what really happened. The interview wound up covering a lot more than Benghazi. When I asked him about his most memorable experience as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet (in which he had 250,000 people under his command) he spoke about raising the level of deterrence against the Soviet Union’s navy and how they managed to keep the Soviets off balance, while bringing the Soviet ballistic missile submarine fleet under control. He made sure to give credit to the personnel working under his command.
Then, he quickly added that “one of the most interesting aspects – we did the first humanitarian cruise of the hospital ship Mercy to the South Pacific in 1987.” He was in Manila in June of 1986, and Cory Aquino had just taken over as the leader of the Philippines following Ferdinand Marcos, and he wanted to see how he could help her. She said her highest priority was how she could help improve the lives of the “man on the street.” Ace decided that coming up with a way to improve their health care would be a good step. He proceeded to work with the Philippine government, and to get a U.S. supertanker carrier converted to a hospital ship. They got it outfitted and manned, and deployed by the spring of 1987. Half of the doctors were from the Philippines, half from the U.S. military, and they saw a thousand people a day. Ace institutionalized the concept of the hospital Mercy ship – not just for the Philippines – working with Project Hope, which also was involved in providing many of the doctors. He said it was a great way to win hearts and minds. It was instituted under his command, and continues to this day.
We covered the waterfront that day. He talked about being asked by then-CIA Director William Casey to draw up plans against Iran following their attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983. The plans were drawn up, but the final order to carry them out was not given, much to Ace’s dismay. He talked about how the Muslim Brotherhood was such a pernicious force, both in the Middle East and increasingly inside the U.S. This was, and remained, a topic of great concern to Ace, until his final day. He also discussed the importance of building up our Navy, and the potentially destructive impact of social engineering and political correctness in the military. The interview lasted about an hour, but it is a good way to get to know and understand the heart and mind of Ace Lyons.
Ace joined me, along with retired Generals Paul Vallely and Tom McInerney, and about a dozen others, to form the Citizens Commission on Benghazi. We issued our final report and held a press conference in June of 2016, where Ace was among the speakers. We later came together with the help of another retired general, Charles Jones, to form the Citizens Commission on National Security (CCNS). I think it’s fair to say that Ace was our guiding light.
I grew to love Ace, and we became very close friends, speaking on the phone almost daily. We talked sports, family, politics and other mutual interests. I watched him dance to Sinatra’s “My Way” at his 90th birthday party last year with his beloved wife of 64 years, Renee, who passed away last month. I visited him in the hospital last Thursday, and spoke to him for the last time just before the kick-off of the Army-Navy game on Saturday. I know how disappointed he was that Navy lost to Army for the third straight year. He was already having a terrible week.
There are other tributes that have been written about Ace that include more biographical information, and which I urge you to read. One, “Death of a Hero,” is from Judi McLeod of Canada Free Press, which carried Ace’s columns this past year. Another is from George Rasley, the editor of Richard Viguerie’s Conservative HQ.
The funeral will be January 11, 2019 at 11:00 a.m. at the Naval Academy Chapel
We’ll miss you, dear Ace. Rest in peace.
[This article has been updated with the date and time of the funeral]