Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Extra! A soldier, a cherry red GTO and remembrances

Critic At Large

Memorial Day column

A cherry red Pontiac GTO like Pfc. Patrick Lyons drove.

DENMARK, Wis. (WFRV) – Cherry red.

The phrase “cherry red” sticks in my mind as a reminder of a soldier from Denmark, Wisconsin, who died in the Vietnam War.

This is how a person identified only as Lin honored that soldier in 2005:

“I never knew you, nor who you really were. But I thank you Patrick Lyons for putting your life on the line to save our country.”

The recognition is posted on a website associated with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I also did not know Patrick Nicholas Lyons. Instead, I knew about him through his parents.

From how Francis and Mabel Lyons described their son, I wrote about Pat in the first feature article of my career.

“Because of the war, they will no longer see Pat Lyons riding in his cherry red GTO, or using his dad’s tractor or coming home with rabbits after hunting with his brother, Mike,” I wrote in July 1967.

Thus, “cherry red” became indelible to me.

Army Pfc. Patrick Lyons was killed in action Feb. 28, 1967, on a search and destroy mission near the Cambodian border during “Operation Junction City.” His unit was ambushed by a large Viet Cong force.

Pfc. Patrick Lyons was awarded a Bronze Star for his courage. He exposed himself to fire and advanced on enemy emplacements, calling on his comrades to fight harder as he moved forward.

Pat Lyons, age 19, died following the motto of his division, Big Red 1: “No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great. Duty first.”

Francis and Mabel Lyons were courageous, too. Despite their great loss, they opened up to me, a stranger, under trying circumstances. They lost a child, a precious child, an appreciated child.

“Pat was a real dependable kid,” his father said.

“No matter what you asked Pat to do, he would do it, and you would know it was done right,” his mother said.

An aura of dignity filled the farmhouse as Pat’s parents posed for a photograph by a Press-Gazette veteran with a sensitive way and spoke with me… not much older than their son.

To interview Francis and Mabel Lyons was my first writing assignment for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

I had started at the newspaper three weeks before, not as a reporter but as a copy editor. That position one step above reporter came at as a bonus of my having been an undergraduate teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I edited and graded the article-writing assignments of other journalism students – 30 students a semester.

My writing assignment came as part of a philosophy at the time, when the Green Bay Press-Gazette was a great daily newspaper: Each copy editor was required to go out and write one article a month to experience what reporters experience. The aim was to give an understanding of what reporters go through so they, the editors, would not act like gods. In other words, walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes.

Riding along with Press-Gazette photographer Ken Behrendt to the Lyons dairy farm was educational. I am a city boy from a heavy duty factory neighborhood on the south side of Milwaukee. The trip through farmland might well have been to Denmark, the country, instead of Denmark, Wisconsin. Country roads, dairy farms and clean air were foreign to me. Farm folks, too.

I realize now that Francis and Mabel Lyons were special. They were the personification of “No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great. Duty first.”

Their duty was to their son – buck up and speak of him despite their pain.

Today, on the Wall of Faces website are other remembrances. In 2004, Michael Hansen posted this:


This is the obituary that was made to make known the death of Patrick Lyons.
Pfc. Patrick Lyons, 19, of Rt. 1, Denmark, was killed Tuesday in Vietnam, near the Cambodian border, according to a telegram received Thursday evening by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Lyons, from the War Department. The message said that Lyons was on a combat operation, Feb. 28, when hit by a hostile small arms fire that caused his death. He was with Co. D. of the First Infantry battalion of the U.S. Army. Pfc. Lyons had been home on a holiday furlough and had been in Vietnam since January. He was born May 2, 1947, at Cooperstown, son of Francis and Mabel Heiser Lyons. He was graduated in 1961 from St. James Parochial School, Cooperstown, and Denmark High School in 1965. He worked for Jauquet Construction Co., Green Bay, after his graduation and entered the U.S. Army Aug. 15, 1966. He took his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., after which he was transferred to Fort Polk, La. He is survived by his parents, four brothers, Michael, Thomas, Dennis and Nic, at home, and three sisters, Mrs. Robert Remiker, of Two Rivers, and Jane and Kathleen, at home. Funeral arrangements will be announced by DeWane Funeral Home, Denmark, after the body arrives in the United States.

Michael Hansen added this:
Patrick Lyons was an ordinary man. He did not deserve to die, but he gave it willingly for the country and the people he loved. His name should never be taken in vain.

In 2008, another post was entered, this time by Jim Schleis.


Almost 42 years since you’ve been gone and almost 43 since our graduation. Been 37 years since I left that country. Doesn’t seem possible that it’s that way.
I think of you when I see your bro Mike.
Thanks forever for your sacrifice.

“Pat said he was going to go to college on the GI plan when he got back,” his father told me in July 1967.

“He always said he was coming back,” his mother said. “Some days you can take it, and some you can’t. I just know he isn’t coming back. I kept every letter he ever wrote – I don’t know why.”

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