Resurrecting a mission: Family christens ship for fallen Airman

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nicholas Mercurio
  • 1st Combat Camera Squadron
(Editor's note: Capt. David Lyon, a logistics officer from Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, was killed in Afghanistan, Dec. 27, 2013. Air Force officials honored Lyon by naming the service’s newest pre-positioning vessel after him. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus conducted the official naming ceremony of Motor Vessel Capt. David I. Lyon Jan. 14, at the Pentagon. The following article recounts the christening of the vessel Aug. 11, 2014, in Southport, North Carolina.)

A single-lane road snakes its way through the knot of North Carolina pines that guards the shoreline at the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point. It runs parallel to a bundle of railroad tracks whose tributaries occasionally splice across the road and curve out of view. Lined along the tracks are dozens of cars laden with containers marked as property of the U.S. government and destined for faraway places. Past the waiting cars, the road arcs gently to the right as the closeness of the trees recedes and gives way to the wide-open expanse of the Cape Fear River surrounding the central pier. A large container ship looms suddenly ahead, riding high and still on the water for lack of cargo and displaying a freshly-painted name on her bow.

“David was very determined as a boy,” Jeannie Lyon said. It is the morning of Aug. 11, 2014, the day she would see the ship that bears her son’s name for the first time. “If he got it in his mind to do something, there was no way he wasn’t going to do it.”

Her son, Capt. David I. Lyon, was killed on Dec. 27, 2013, when a vehicle borne improvised explosive device struck his convoy in Afghanistan.

A boy who stayed late after football and basketball games to mop the locker room floor, David grew into a man who fulfilled his dream of graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

He would later go on to personify servant leadership as an Air Force captain and logistics readiness officer.

Mrs. Lyon felt exhilarated on May 28, 2008, as she watched her son collect his diploma and walk across the stage to “high-five” former President George W. Bush. She confided what the president told David while shaking his hand. “He said to him, ‘I want you to go home. I want you to be a leader, and I want you to make a difference in this world,’” she said.

David took those words to heart and strove to meet that challenge every day. “He was a true patriot,” said Robert Lyon, David’s father. “He loved his country.”

While he made a difference to many, David had the most lasting and profound impact on his wife of five years and fellow Academy graduate, Capt. Dana Lyon. “He was the best thing to ever happen to my world,” she said.

Although they were recruited by the Academy to play different sports, both eventually found their way to the track and field team, and to each other. “He was a strong leader and a godly man,” Dana said. “He took care of my heart.”

Seven months after her husband’s death, Dana is still struggling to pick up the pieces. “It’s difficult to take on something by yourself when you’ve been doing it together for a while,” she said.

In October 2012, David volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan as an air advisor. “He wanted to get in the fight,” Dana said. “Not that he was looking for a fight, but that he wanted to serve, to do the mission.”

At the time, Dana had jokingly threatened to volunteer as well until orders came down for her own deployment. They were both serving in Afghanistan at the time of his death; their last day together was Christmas Day at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

“Neither one of us held the other back from what we were trying to achieve,” she said. “I think that if Dave had to do it over again, he’d do it again in a heartbeat because he knew what he was doing was making a difference.”

As Dana reflected on David’s latest achievement of having a ship renamed for him, she described it as an honor she never wanted but is grateful to have.

“I think it’s awesome that it’s a logistics ship, and Dave was a logistics officer,” she said. However, she pointed to a deeper connection as her source of solace during this difficult time. “He cast ripples,” she said. “His spirit and leadership inspired so many, just as the ship that bears his name will continue to make ripples.”

On Aug. 11, 2014, Dana and her family, alongside Jeannie and Robert Lyon, were at MOTSU to christen and tour the vessel before it departed to perform its wartime mission. Seeing it for the first time, the pride they feel is tempered by the lingering immediacy of their bereavement.

Words come slowly at first, and voices are thick with emotion.

However, as Dana, a world-class javelin thrower and 2008 Olympic-hopeful, launched a bottle of champagne and it smashed against the hull, a thunderous cheer erupted from family members and onlookers alike, and the somber mood was instantly transformed to one of celebration.

The newly christened Motor Vessel Capt. David I. Lyon is an Air Force prepositioning vessel, which will transport 12.5 million pounds of munitions, or as much as 78 fully loaded C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, overseas to support the warfighter.

“It’s kind of like he’s come full circle,” Dana said. “Dave never got a chance to work supply, and now, a supply ship is named after him. Even though he is gone, his life, his purpose, his mission will continue.”