Lost for 6 decades, Korean War airman to be buried in Fla.
By ELIOT KLEINBERG | The Palm Beach (Fla.) Pos | Published: July 18, 2014
Tom Lyons is coming home.
It’s not the Brooklyn home he left as a teen to serve his country as an airman during the Korean War.
And it’s not the snowy grave where Lyons, forever 19,and 51 others lay buried for six decades after a C-124 Globemaster slammed into an Alaskan glacier during a blizzard on Nov. 22, 1952.
But when his lone sibling, Geraldine Evans, learned his remains had been found, she decided to bury him near the Boca Raton home where she’d retired.
So on Friday morning, Thomas Stanley Lyons will receive full military honors at the South Florida National Cemetery west of Lake Worth.
“He was just a kid,” Evans said from her oceanfront Boca Raton condo.
One of Geraldine’s five children, son Tommy, flew to Hawaii, where the remains were identified, to escort the man for whom he’s named. That flight arrived Thursday at rainy Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and Lyons was taken to a northern Broward County funeral home.
Geraldine Evans was moved by the care with which the government handled her brother’s homecoming.
“We didn’t stop at one red light,” Evans said. “The government is paying for everything. This has cost me nothing.”
Video from a Facebook page on the C124 crash shows a military escort carrying Lyons from the plane to a nearby hearse. A plastic sheet protected the U.S. flag that draped the casket.
“Lonesome,” the widow and retired nurse said of growing up without her brother. “He was my best friend. I was 14. One minute I have somebody, a companion in the house, somebody to fight with and play with, fool around with. And he was gone.”
She said her brother was an artist and musician, but as the son of a Brooklyn mechanic, “the money wasn’t there for him to to go to an art school or a music school. He decided to go the Air Force. He died within a year of enlisting.”
Geraldine Evans said her family had been told right away of the crash, and when the body hadn’t been recovered in a year, they opted for a memorial service at their Methodist church in Brooklyn.
“To me, that was his funeral,” she said. “In fact, we call this his ‘homecoming.’”
The plane had crashed into Colony Glacier as it flew from an air base in Washington state to Elmendorf Air Base in Anchorage with a crew of 11 and 41 passengers. Continuing bad weather blocked immediate recovery, and as the harsh arctic winter set in, search parties were unable to get to the site.
It would be June 9, 2012, when an Alaska National Guard Black Hawk helicopter crew spotted the wreckage during a training mission. Three days later, another team landed. Later that month, a special “missing in action” task force team came to the site. It returned in 2013. The military was able to identify 17 sets of remains, which are being returned to relatives. The Pentagon announced the 17 names June 18.
Sadly, authorities didn’t find a lot of Lyons’ body. But, amazingly, his sister said, they found his frozen wallet intact.
“You could see his Air Force ID, his shipping orders, money,” Geraldine Evans said.
Tom’s mother died just before he was positively identified.
“She lived to be 101-and-a-half,” Evans said. “She missed it by a month. But I’m sure she knows it.”