Combat-wounded veteran of Afghanistan finds purpose providing final honors for veterans
When a high-value target failed to show up where Lance Cpl. Ed Lyons had been lying in wait for more than a day, the designated marksman of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and his spotter were ordered to tactically egress from their hiding position in the Garmsir District of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and rejoin their squad for the patrol back to their forward operating base.
That order forever changed Lyons’ life. Just 200 yards from his unit, Lyons stepped on a pressure plate explosive device.
“It was like the earth opened up and all hell broke loose,” said Lyons, who was seven weeks into his first combat deployment in November 2009. “I don’t remember anything other than the world going dark and feeling my body being thrown through the air and hitting the ground.”
The blast took Lyons’ left hand, caused a traumatic brain injury and left him with various other internal injuries due to shrapnel in his abdomen. A 45-minute firefight ensued before Lyons was medevaced out with the help of his spotter. Medical personnel at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany had difficulty stabilizing him in the immediate days after, but he eventually became well enough to be transported back to the U.S.
After 2 1/2 years recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he received a prosthesis for his hand, Lyons was medically retired from the Marine Corps.
“The exact phrase used was that I ‘suffered from physical disabilities of such proportion’ that I ‘would never render use in civilian or military industrial life,’” Lyons explained about his discharge paperwork. “For a 22-year-old, that was a punch to the gut.”
Suffering from survivor’s guilt, Lyons struggled at times during his transition from a Marine infantryman to civilian. That changed in 2014, when Lyons’ brother, Gerard, an Army veteran of Iraq and then-manager of Yellowstone National Cemetery, invited him to attend the cemetery’s grand opening on Memorial Day.
“I knew right then that this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” said Lyons.
He was initially turned down from the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) because he didn’t have enough experience, according to Lyons. But after working various manual labor jobs and submitting multiple applications, Lyons was eventually accepted as a caretaker at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.
Lyons quickly earned the respect of his peers and supervisors through his work ethic—a trend that continued as he climbed the ladder of duties at NCA.
Just four years later, Lyons was selected out of several hundred applicants to attend NCA’s yearlong Cemetery Director Intern Program. From there, he was selected to serve in his current position as assistant director of the Sarasota National Cemetery in Florida.
For his exceptional dedication to honoring the lives of America’s veterans and caring for their families, Lyons received the Outstanding National Cemetery Administration Employee of the Year award at the 2019 DAV National Convention in Orlando.
“Ed saw the worst of war and suffered tremendous personal losses,” said National Commander Butch Whitehead. “But he found his life’s purpose as an employee of the National Cemetery Administration, devoting himself fully to honoring our nation’s veterans and ensuring their families are cared for in life’s most difficult times.”
Assisting veterans and their families has helped give Lyons closure for the friends who never made it home from Afghanistan.
“It helped me overcome my own demons while making someone else’s worst day just a little bit better,” he said.
Treating every family in a way he hopes someone did for his friends has become his personal mission and goal.
“This could be any one of their families, so I’m going to do it right.”