|Charles Lyon as a POW|
|Charlie Mary Jo at Memorial dedicated to KIA crewmembers||Charlie and Farmers Daughters in 1965 in Italy|
|Last Name: `
|Street: 306 STATE ST.||City & State: ANTHON, IA||E-Mail:|
|Zip: 51004||Phone: (712) 373-5358||Spouse: MARY JO|
|Conflict: WW II||Service Branch: Army Air Corp||Unit: 15 AF 301 BG 419 BS|
|Theater: ETO||Where Captured: ST. ANDRA, ITALY||Date Captured: 12/29/44|
|Camps Held In: NURENBURG, STALAG 13D; MOOSBURG, STALAG 7A||How Long Interned: 121 days|
|liberated / repatriated: liberated||Date Liberated: 04/29/45||Age at Capture: 23|
|Medals Received: PURPLE HEART MEDAL, AIR MEDAL W/4 COMBAT STARS (4 COMBAT ZONES)|
|Military Job: GUNNER||Company: SELF EMPLOYED|
|Occupation after War: HONEY PRODUCER AND PACKER|
Charlie Lyon has met the enemy three times, the first time they were friendly, the second and third times they were friends. The Anthon, Iowa native whose B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down in the Italian Alps during World War II returned with his wife to the crash site where four of his 10-man crew perished. Not only did the natives of the small Italian village of St. Leonhard grandly host him and Mary Jo, but they were guests of honor at the education of two memorials to American airmen who died nearby while fighting against Italy and its German allies.
One memorial was to honor those from Lyon’s 301st Bomb Group who died near St. Leonhard on December 29, 1944. The second was dedicated to the 12 crew members of a B-24 who died when that aircraft was shot down a couple of miles away near St. Andrea February 28, 1945. The dedication was at Brixen, a larger town near the crash sites.
Lyon 76, is amazed by the generosity of spirit Prader ha shown. ‘Maybe it’s not unprecedented, to put up monuments to the enemy dead…but they have their own dead,” he mused. However, the shooting down of Lyon’s particular B-17 is a story with a history of unusual circumstances. “We got a direct hit and I knew we were going down,” Lyon recalled. “I was trying to get to the door to bail out. The plane blew up.” Lyon a waist gunner regained consciousness mid-air and opened his parachute. His navigator, Arthur Frechette, was not quite so lucky, or maybe he was luckier. He slammed into the steep side of a snow-covered mountain seconds after regaining consciousness with no parachute. He survived his injuries and went on to have a long civilian career teaching mathematics in Connecticut where he still resides. Even with that, the crew’s luck did not run out. Lyon’s co-pilot, Sam Wheeler, was blown out of the plane at 25,000 feet without a parachute. As he was falling he was struck in the face by a loose object which he grabbed reflexively. He quickly donned the captured chute and pulled the ripcord. It belonged to Frechette. The event was recorded in the Stars and Stripes of the day as “one of the more unusual” occurrences of the war, Lyon recalled. In addition to the recent formalities in Italy, Lyon was able to meet casually with the son and three daughters of the farmer who had rescued him.
Josef Frener had gone to look for Lyon three times that day, finally finding him just before dark stuck in a tree and bleeding from minor injuries. Lyon said Frener saved his life, given the deadly mountain weather. After ensuring Lyon was unarmed, Frener took him to his home, gave him a hearty meal and a featherbed to sleep in. Lyon in turn gave the little girls pieces of chocolate from his survival kit. The next morning Lyon helped Frau Frener churn butter hoping to garner her favor and thus her aid in getting to nearby Austria where he would be safe. His effort had no effect. Soon German soldiers came taking him to the prison camp at Nuremberg. But the three girls, now middle-aged adults, remembered “the handsome American airman” and his chocolate. Through an interpreter they also told Lyon that they were the envy of every girl in school after the bomber was shot down; their mother had made silk dresses from them from the remnants of his parachute. In the meantime, Lyon had stayed only three months at Nuremberg when he was sent on a forced march to another camp about 100 miles south near Munich. There the Germans had hoped to negotiate for the American prisoners.
The events of those months so affected Lyon that in 1965 he took Mary Jo and their family to visit Germany. “I kept a diary on the march. I kept track of every place I’d slept,” Lyon said. On his return trip, following his diary, they found every single spot. Also on that trip, the Lyons were befriended by a German, Martin Braun, who knowing English helped them negotiate the countryside. Braun, a former enemy soldier, has since made16 trips to the United States visiting the Lyons. “He was in anti-aircraft” Lyon said. “We always kidded that he shot my plane down. He said, no they never could hit anything”, Lyon recounted, laughing.
Touched by the 1965 trip, Lyons’ son Tim, now 45, made an individual pilgrimage to the crash site in 1971 when he graduated from high school. He now runs the family bee-keeping business in Herrick, S.D. a third-generation apiarist.
In 1998 Charlie Lyon himself has now gone from being a prisoner in enemy territory to being among the first Americans ever entertained by officials of Brixen town since its founding 901 AD. Both monuments will be blessed there by the church, a requirement in Italy, then set on footings at the rural sites. And Lyon, who once again found his plane’s crash site, brought back a lot of memories and a small bag filled with a few dozen pieces of rust-encrusted metal. “It’s just a bunch of junk,” he explained, “But to me it’s history.”
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