“I don’t consider myself a hero because a hero is somebody who does something beyond the call of duty, I never did anything beyond the call of duty, whatever I did I did because I liked it” Fox News Channel May 4th 2018
On this Black History Month Cockpit USA pays honor to one of the last surviving heroes of the iconic Tuskegee Airmen group of WWII. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of black soldiers that defied expectations in a segregated military during a time when it was believed African-Americans couldn’t be trained in aviation. Their bravery and contributions helped promote inclusion in the advancement of the United States military.
John “Jack” Lyle died on January 5th, 2019 at 98 years old in his home in the Chicago South Side. Lyle was a child musician, fighter pilot, cop, a sailor, an entrepreneur, and an amateur inventor. His wife Eunice Jackson-Lyle described him as an individual who loved to learn; “his home had a library stocked with encyclopedias and classic novels”. During his last days, Lyle spent his time at the Jackson Park Harbor on Lake Michigan, a perfect location for one of his many passions, sailing.
“Captain Jack” as he was called by many loved ones was a highly skilled fighter pilot, "We flew 500 feet above the bombers to keep enemy fighters from hitting our guys," he recalled in a 2012 interview with Jet Magazine. "I loved flying, being up in the clouds, the scenery. I flew 26 combat missions, from southern Italy to Austria and southern Germany, over the Austrian Alps." Lyle also mentioned in the interview on how he was fired upon on several times and how he watched at first-hand other bombers being torn apart by the enemy. After the war, Lyle returned to his hometown of Chicago where he enlisted in college to then work as a skyscraper window washer. Lyle found other ventures after window washing; he worked as an insurance salesman to then owning his own fish and chicken restaurant and eventually a tree cutting service company.
Lyle’s childhood dream came true in 1957 when he bought his first sailboat. The freedom he felt on the water fulfilled his competitive spirit. His intelligence and pilot experience made him an outstanding sailor, as he was quick to respond to any wind changes upon the horizon. The many years of practice paid off and Lyle eventually became a captain at the Jackson Park Yacht Club. Lyle's focus and love of sailing awarded him the title of “Yachtsperson of the Year” by the Chicago Yachting Association at the age of 91, becoming the eldest person to receive the honor.
With all of these recognitions none compare to the Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by then president George W. Bush in 2007, which acknowledge Lyle’s achievements and bravery during WWII. All of these milestones never deterred Lyle’s humbleness as he never considered that what he did was award-worthy.
Today we pay respect an honor the legacy of an American champion. Surviving though his wife and three children, John “Captain Jack” Lyle is part of history. Lyle and many other men during WWII risked their lives to ensure that our freedoms at home were protected during a time of adversity. His service and the service of all Tuskegee Airmen is an important piece of the Civil Rights Movement that influenced unity within the military. Here’s to a man who lived to be free in the skies and on the water, rest in peace John “Captain Jack” Lyle.