Myers Recognizes 'Operation Smile' Stalwart
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2005 A retired Air Force major general today received the Chairman's Distinguished Public Service Award in part for a smile - Operation Smile.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers pins the Chairman's Distinguished Public Service Award onto the lapel of retired Air Force Maj. Gen. William Lyon at the Pentagon on May 10. The Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman honored Lyon for his work with Operation Smile and other endeavors. Photo by Mamie M. Burke
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Retired Maj. Gen. William Lyon received the award from Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers at a Pentagon ceremony. Lyon served as the chief of the Air Force Reserve from 1975 to 1979.
Lyon received the award for his continued service to the nation following his retirement. Part of that is his support for Operation Smile. The group provides free reconstructive surgery to children and young adults worldwide. It has been involved in providing surgery for the children of Iraq and Afghanistan, and has worked to train Iraqi surgeons in the latest medical techniques.
"Your service has made a difference to people around the world," Myers said during the award presentation.
Lyon stood with his wife, Willa Dean, as Myers recited the general's accomplishments. In addition to helping fund Operation Smile, Lyon also endowed a professorship in ethics at the U.S. Air Force Academy - the first such position in the military academies. He also works with the Academy's Research and Development Institute, which funds visiting professors to the school in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He and his wife have been involved in Boy Scouts, the Orange County, Calif., Performing Arts Center and the Orangewood Children's Foundation.
This followed a "great military career," the chairman said. Lyon tried to enlist in the Navy right after Pearl Harbor, but the service wouldn't take him. "Huge mistake," Myers said. In 1943, Lyon did enlist in the Army Air Force and flew in both Europe and Asia. He remained in the reserves following the war and flew in Korea, where he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He held a number of commands and jobs in California and rose to be the chief of the Air Force Reserve. "I know you worked very hard to make sure the Air Force Reserve and the active duty Air Force were integrated the way they needed to be," Myers said. "You instituted many changes."
Lyon, 82, still flies a Gulfstream 4 business jet, and owns an enviable collection of old warplanes and classic automobiles. He had a successful business career in Southern California, where he built more than 100,000 homes in the last 50 years.
He also bought and ran AirCal, an airline that merged with American Airlines, and has served on numerous company boards.
Operation Smile is one of Lyon's signature charities. The group has been around since 1982, and has provided free surgery for thousands of children and young adults from the Philippines to Central America. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the group has paid for numerous surgeries to correct cleft palates, reconstructive surgery and surgeries to help burn victims.
The group also is training Iraqi surgeons, who missed a whole generation of medical education under Saddam Hussein. "It's not just getting the surgery done, it's the whole medical process - the delivery of medical services," Myers said during the award ceremony.
The chairman called the work Operation Smile surgeons and trainers are doing "critically important." He said that humanitarian aid is "just as important as having our folks on patrol rounding up insurgents. It's the fabric of what it's going to take to be successful in the world we live in today."
Lyon thanked Myers for the award. He said it was an unexpected honor. And he has plans to continue his service. "When we were first married I made two promises to my wife," he said. "I said I'm never going to quit flying and never going to retire. I've certainly proved both to her."