A Tribute To Admiral James “Ace” Lyons

 

To Fellow Flag Officers

 

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Admiral James

Aloysius “Ace” Lyons, Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired) on 12 Dec 2018 at age 91.

Admiral Lyons graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1952 and served

as a Surface Warfare Officer until his retirement as four-star

Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet on 1 October 1987.  In multiple

leadership assignments in Navy strategy roles in the Pentagon and in command

of Second Fleet and Pacific Fleet, ADM Lyons played critical part in in the

development and implementation of the President Reagan Administration’s

Maritime Strategy.  In multiple innovative exercises, such as Ocean Venture

81, ADM Lyons demonstrated to the Soviets that the U.S. Navy could truly

surprise and hurt them in the event of war, forcing the Soviets to have to

contemplate a much larger defense budget at a time when their economy and

internal situation were deteriorating.  A case can be made that  ADM Lyon’s

effective execution of the Maritime Strategy was the “straw that broke the

camel’s back,” contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union several

years later; others might argue that the effect was even more direct and

decisive and was in keeping with Sun Tzu’s dictum that the highest form of

military art is to win without fighting (but a key to  that is to be ready

to win, which ADM Lyon’s epitomized.)

 

After a stint in the Merchant Marine, ADM Lyons enlisted in the U.S. Naval

Reserve on 30 Jun 1947, entering the U.S. Naval Academy in 1948 and

graduating with the Class of 1952, playing football and with a BS in Naval

Science.  His career got off to a bit of a slow start with three months

aboard  attack cargo ship USS LIBRA (AKA-12,) conducting training on the

U.S. east coast assigned to Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet.  This was

followed by two years as a patient at Portsmouth and Bethesda Naval

Hospitals, followed by a year at the Bureau of Naval Personnel.  He resumed

sea duty in November 1955 aboard the heavy cruiser USS SALEM (CA-139)

deployed for 20-months as a “permanent” flagship for Commander, SIXTH Fleet

and homeported in Ville Franche-sur-Mer, France.  During this period, SALEM

(last heavy cruiser in the  world completed and the only one still in

existence,) responded to the 1956 Arab-Israeli War/Suez Crisis and two

crises in Jordan.  In January 1958, he reported to the destroyer USS MILLER

(DD-535,) which supported the landings of U.S. Marines in Lebanon during a

Mediterranean deployment, after which she served as a training ship for over

11,000 Naval Reservists (gaining some notoriety when a cadet from a New

Zealand cadet training ship swam across Boston harbor at night and raised a

Russian flag on the MILLER as a joke.  Many were not amused.)  In July 1961

he reported to Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla FOUR as ASW and Gunnery

Officer/Staff Duty Officer operating along the Atlantic coast and engaged in

significant ASW experimentation.

 

In July 1963, ADM Lyons attended the U.S. Naval War College, followed by a

little over two years in the Office of the CNO as Surface Warfare Plans

Officer, Strategic Plans Division, Naval Warfare Plans section, where he was

promoted to commander in 1966.  In November 1966, he assumed command of the

destroyer USS CHARLES S. SPERRY (DD 697,) which deployed to the

Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Arabian Gulf and Western Pacific during this

period.  In August 1968, he reported to the staff of Commander SIXTH Fleet

as Executive Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and

Plans/Head, Anti-submarine Warfare and Ocean Surveillance Division,

following the move of 6th Fleet from France to Gaeta, Italy.  Commencing in

June 1970, he studied for a year at the National War College, followed by

another two years in the Office of the CNO as Executive Assistant and Senior

Aide to the Deputy CNO for Plans and Policy, during which he was promoted to

captain.

 

In January 1974, ADM Lyons assumed command of the destroyer leader (later

re-designated cruiser) USS RICHMOND K. TURNER (DLG-20) for a homeport shift

from Newport to Norfolk, followed by a Mediterranean deployment.  In June

1975 he reported as Chief of Staff to Commander, Carrier Group FOUR, which

was engaged in a significant transformation to the modern Battle Group

concept (i.e, where the Flag is responsible for the whole battle group not

just the carrier and air wing.) Some credit him with turning the Carrier

Group from an administrative construct to a true warfighting organization.

In March 1978, he was back in the Office of the CNO yet again for four

months as Deputy Director, Strategic Plans and Policy Division, followed in

June 1978 by a tour in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as Assistant

Deputy Director, Political Military Affairs where he was designated as a

rear admiral while serving in a billet commensurate with that rank (and

actually promoted rear admiral on 1 June 1979.)

 

In July 1980, he assumed command of Naval Surface Group Western Pacific

This was followed in July 1981 when he was designated a vice admiral and

assumed command of SECOND Fleet (and NATO Striking Force Atlantic) and

almost immediately participated in major NATO exercise Ocean Venture, a two

month exercise involving over 250 ships and 120,000 crewmen from 14

countries, spanning the South Atlantic to the North Cape of Norway, followed

by two more major exercises, characterized by extensive use of emissions

control, dispersed formations, deception, bold use of electronic warfare,

all calculated to get in the Soviet’s face, frequently by surprise.    In

July 1983, he returned  to the Office of the CNO as Deputy CNO, Plans,

Policy and Operations (OP-06,) which prior to the Goldwater-Nichols Act had

a much more operational role than today, which in addition to operations

affecting the Soviet Union also included significant anti-terrorist

activity, including the Achille Lauro hijacking incident.  He was then

designated an admiral (four-star) in September 1985 as Commander-in-Chief,

U.S. Pacific Fleet.  He immediately implemented a bold exercise regime

similar to that in the North Atlantic, using THIRD Fleet as a primary

warfighting force in the far northern Pacific in proximity to the Soviet

Union.  Yet, his tenure was also marked by a successful visit of U.S. Navy

warships to the People’s Republic, the first in 37 years.  Nevertheless, his

tenure was also contentious, as the “bugs” in Goldwater-Nichols between

Joint Theater Combatant Commanders and Fleet Commanders were still being

worked out the hard way.  Relations were rocky with the new U.S. Central

Command (in which ADM Lyons advocated much stronger action against Iran

during the “Tanker War,) and to a somewhat lesser extent, U.S. Pacific

Command, who was sometime caught as much by surprise by Lyon’s actions as

the Russians.  ADM Lyon’s deserved reputation for outspokenness was not

always well-received, and he came under pressure from Washington to retire

sooner than intended.  Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehmann would later

characterize this action as “the revenge of the nerds,” believing that the

services of a true warfighter had been lost prematurely.  ADM Lyons retired

in October 1987.

 

Admiral Lyons’ awards included two Distinguished Service Medals, the

Defense Superior Service Medal, two Meritorious Service, two Navy

Commendation and a Navy Achievement Medal.  Other medals and ribbons

included the Navy Expeditionary Medal (Cuba), Humanitarian Service and Armed

Forces Expeditionary Medal (Lebanon).  Foreign awards included the French

Legion D’Honnneur and the Republic of Korea Order of National Security

Merit.

 

Although ADM Lyons had a reputation as a driven task-master with

Patton-esque qualities, he was also mentor to a long list of officers (such

as Hank Mauz, Phil Dur and Hank Mustin, according to SECNAV Lehmann) who

went on to flag rank or major command tours.  ADM Lyons could definitely be

controversial, but his impact on the Navy, and on the outcome of the Cold

War, was profound, for which our Navy and nation should be grateful.

 

After retirement, ADM Lyons served as president and chief executive

officer of LION Associates, LLC., a global consulting enterprise.  He also

served on the board of directors for several companies, as well as on the

Advisory Board to the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and as

consultant to Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.  He also authored numerous

articles and columns for the Naval War College Review and Naval Institute

Proceedings, and other national and international journals and newspapers.

In his later years, he showed he remained unafraid to make controversial

statements on controversial subjects, and whether one agreed with any of

them or not, they were motivated by a sincere desire to assure the safety of

this nation.  (One cause he advocated, with which I agree, was to restore

Husband Kimmel’s four star rank.)  Regardless, his absence from the scene

will be noticed.

 

Services and burial at the Naval Academy Cemetery.

 

Rest in Peace Admiral Lyons,

 

Very respectfully,

 

Sam

 

On a personal note, I had one close encounter with then-VADM Lyons, in 1985

when he was OP-06 and I was an Undersea Warfare Watch Officer in CNO

Intelligence Plot.  One weekend the Soviets took an action with potential

lethal consequences for a U.S. Navy asset, necessitating that I call a long

list of senior Navy officials.  VADM Lyons got there first, still in shorts,

a tank top (that was too small) and flip-flops, indicating he hadn’t dallied

a moment in responding to my call.  Although he had a reputation amongst us

JO’s as being on the bombastic side, what I saw that day was a cool, calm,

utterly professional flag officer, who instantly grasped the situation and

potentially grave  implications of what the Soviets had done, and

immediately took decisive measures to unsure appropriate actions were taking

place in the Fleet and Numbered Fleet.  He was an inspirational example of

leadership in crisis that I never forgot.  In the end, it may have turned

out to be a really bad day for a beluga whale, but fortunately not for the

U.S. Navy.

 

Samuel J. Cox

RADM, USN (retired)

Director of Naval History

Curator for the Navy

Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

A must watch to the end: