In Memoriam: A Great American Has Passed

January 16, 2019 Updated: January 25, 2019


We read about “great” people in the news every day. But few of us are lucky enough to actually meet one. So, what often passes for “great” in the public mind involves people who become known for one or a few noteworthy things in their lives.

Apple founder Steve Jobs is a good example. Not to detract from his accomplishments in any way; he was a visionary who brought us what may go down as one of the most revolutionary inventions of the 21st century.

But there are others whose daily lives exemplify a dedication to selfless service, who, in their arenas, are every bit as revolutionary; while their personal lives, demeanor, courage, and generosity inspire everyone they know. Unlike Jobs, many such individuals pass away long forgotten, or never known by the larger world around them. But their contributions are in many ways greater.

James A. Lyons was one such man. “Ace,” as he was known to his friends, passed on Dec. 12, 2018, at the age of 91. He retired in 1987 from a lifetime career in the U.S. Navy. A 1952 graduate of the Naval Academy, Ace rose to become a four-star admiral and commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He also served as senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations and deputy chief of naval operations.

Ace was known for his sharp mind and brilliant, bold, aggressive strategic thinking and actions during the Cold War. He was a principal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and birthed the “Red Cell” concept, an anti-terrorism group comprised of U.S. Navy SEALs and led by the first SEAL Team 6 leader, Richard Marcinko. Red Cell members would seek to surreptitiously penetrate U.S. military installations and test security procedures to demonstrate their vulnerability. That model has been used repeatedly since then to test security on many government installations.

One of Ace’s most prized accomplishments was the conversion of a supertanker into a hospital ship, christened “Mercy.” Following a 1986 trip to the Philippines, and a discussion with newly elected President Cory Aquino, Ace decided he could help out by supplying medical assistance to the island. The conversion was accomplished and the ship staffed in under a year; it took its maiden voyage to the South Pacific in the spring of 1987. Doctors from the Philippines and the United States treated 1,000 patients daily. The Mercy ship concept that Ace instituted continues to this day.

Following his retirement, Ace founded and led a global consulting firm. He served as chairman of the military committee for Washington’s premier national security think tank, the Center for Security Policy, and on the Citizens Commission on Benghazi.

These were all great accomplishments, but what stood out about Ace was his selfless dedication to service. And it was always with a smile. His daughter told me that when she was young, her friends would call to go out. She would decline, saying she was going out with her parents.

“Your parents?” they would ask, incredulously.

“Yes,” she would answer. “When we go out, we have fun!”

Ace was married for 64 years to his loving wife Renee, who predeceased him by just a little over a month. He was a loving father, grandfather, and husband.

I had the privilege of knowing Ace in the last few years of his life. Despite his age, he had a relentless spirit and devotion to duty. He shared in our many concerns over the direction our nation is headed, and was determined to serve as he could up to his last days. His last column “The Fog of War,” was written just a few weeks before he passed.

Roger Aronoff, who met Ace through his work on the Citizens Commission on Benghazi, describes in his own tribute, some of Ace’s accomplishments, as well as his personal reflections on this great man. George Rasley of Conservative HQ also offered his homage, as did Judy McLeod of Canada Free Press, which carried many of Ace’s columns. Her memorial is fittingly titled Death of a Hero. Ace truly was—he was a highly accomplished, thoughtful, brave, resourceful, and compassionate gentleman who personified the best of the American spirit.

His funeral service at the Naval Academy on Jan. 11 was one of the most moving events I have ever attended. He was eulogized by former Secretary of Defense John Lehman, who articulated well the feelings universally shared about this great man. We will mourn his passing, but rejoice knowing he has rejoined the love of his life in a much better place.

James Simpson is an economist, former White House budget analyst, businessman, and investigative journalist. His latest book is “The Red-Green Axis: Refugees, Immigration and the Agenda to Erase America.” Follow Jim on Twitter and Facebook.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.