MATAMORAS, Pa. – Raymond George Lyon, 96, has followed life the way it has been delivered to him, sensing and choosing direction as he sees it – including his choice to enlist and accept assignment as a medic during World War II.
He was born April 28, 1922, at 302 Avenue H, his childhood home. He and his wife later bought this house from his parents, Harold and Ethel Lyon, and raised their own family there. Raymond was the third of five children; two older brothers, who died in a flu epidemic, and two younger sisters. While growing up, he and his friends enjoyed fishing, making their own bamboo fly rods and ties, deer hunting, and climbing the local mountains together. He was a star high jumper on his high school track team and played saxophone and clarinet in the school band.
Upon graduation, Lyon joined the Army Air Corps.
“It was 1940, and I had just turned 18 and graduated from Matamoras High School. We were just coming out of a depression and there was a shortage of money. I went to work at the state hospital in Middletown and had inquired about finding a way to go to nursing school,” Lyon recalled this week. “Everyone in my age group was going into the military, so I instead chose to volunteer. I thought I would then go to college when I came home.”
During his enlistment interview, Lyon recalls being asked about his experiences since graduation. He heard the person conducting the interview mumble something about his brief work in the hospital.
“They felt I was experienced in medicine, so they sent me to a six-month military school to be a medic. My insignia is the medical caduceus. I was assigned as a surgical technician, which I think is just what they needed most,” Lyon said. “I was offered a position overseas, and I volunteered to go.”
While leaving for boat transport to England, Lyon recalls leaving from the Board of Embarkation in Newburgh and picking up other enlisted persons along their Orange County train route. He had signed an Article of War in which he promised not to talk to anyone about his assignment or plans. Somehow word had reached Lyon’s father, then a Port Jervis boilermaker on the Erie Railroad, that the train was on its way to Port – with his son was on it. People were lined up along the tracks to greet the train.
“I was sure I would be in trouble. I was quite worried,” Lyon recalled. “But it was okay. People had been lined up all along the route, greeting the train.”
Lyon was assigned to a base in England where wounded American soldiers were brought.
“As a corporal, I was in charge of other medics and the treatment of 24 people at a time. The wounded or sick would come in for treatment, leave, and others then brought in,” Lyon said.
He once saw two B17s collide over the base on a foggy day. Some of the parachutes opened, and others did not. The wounded were treated at the base, an incident Lyon still recalls easily.
While on active duty, Lyon found a career – also by chance. There were thousands of men in his unit and no barber. One day a fellow soldier was going to town and asked him to cut his hair. Lyon had no experience at this, but upon urging agreed, using small surgical scissors for the task.
“It looked horrible,” he recalled. “But before I knew it, others were asking for haircuts. I became interested in doing this and ended up cutting everyone’s hair while on the boat to England, and later.”
After the war, Lyon returned home, went to school and became a barber, opening and operating Ray’s Beauty Shop on Pike Street in Port Jervis for more than 30 years. He married his high school sweetheart, Carol Ollear of Port Jervis. The couple raised two daughters and three sons, and have many beloved grandchildren.
Lyon said this week, in reflecting upon his life and years of service, that if the circumstances were the same, he would it all again.
“I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” he said. “I’m no hero, but I put my time in. I would gladly do it again.”