First Navy SEAL to become admiral dies at 93

SAN DIEGO — Richard Lyon, the first Navy SEAL to rise to the rank of admiral, has died at 93.

Lyon served four decades in the Navy, including World War II and the Korean War, and was among the first U.S. troops to enter Japan after the atomic bomb was dropped.

He went on to work as a Scout intelligence officer in northern China and later served in Korea.

Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, called Lyon a legend who was honored with the title “Bullfrog” for being the oldest-serving SEAL. Lyon regularly attended the graduation ceremonies of SEALs.

“Every SEAL reflects on his warrior spirit and his lasting, impactful handprint on our legacy,” Szymanski said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. “He will be greatly missed.”

Lyon died Friday surrounded by family and friends at his beachfront home in Oceanside, north of San Diego, said lifelong friend Kelly Sarber, who met Lyon as a child because her father was also a SEAL.

Sarber recalled photos of Lyon and other SEALs swimming with knives during the elite military team’s beginnings.

“He reminded me of James Bond,” she said. “I never saw him lose his cool. I never saw him be nothing but kind and treat people with manners. He was a real class act.”

Lyon enlisted in the Navy in 1942 while studying at Yale University. He was among the first to endure the SEAL training known as “Hell Week” in which trainees spend seven days with almost no sleep, running, swimming and doing other drills.

An award-winning swimmer, he continued to body surf in competitions into his 70s, Sarber said. He stayed active in the SEAL community until his death and mentored young SEAL candidates until recently.

Retired Rear Adm. Garry Bonelli, who became a SEAL in 1968, said he never knew SEALs had such high-ranking officers among them until being told as a young SEAL that he was going to be briefed by an admiral.

“I thought there are no Navy SEAL admirals, and then I saw him in his white uniform with big gold bars and thought ‘Wow, that’s a Navy SEAL admiral!’ ” Bonelli said. “Dick Lyon personifies what it is to be a Navy frogman and Navy SEAL. He had the smarts, the athletic ability and the heart to do special maritime operations.”

Bonelli recalled that Lyon told trainees the most important tool to success is the ability to listen to your troops and make decisions.

Lyon retired from the Navy in 1983 and worked as a retail marketing and financial executive. He served two terms as mayor of Oceanside in 1992 and 1996, and was a member of various boards, including as president of the Oceanside Unified School District board of trustees.

In 2013, Lyon was the recipient of the prestigious Yale University George H.W. Bush Lifetime of Leadership Award.

He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Cynthia Gisslin Lyon; nine children; 14 grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.

A service honoring his life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at New Venture Christian Fellowship in Oceanside. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations in Lyon’s name be made to the Navy SEAL Foundation at navysealfoundation.org.

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