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Combat Photographer Honored - Sep 2019

Former Buck Sergeant, (E-4), Mike Lyons wearing his 50th Vietnam War Veteran Commemorative Lapel Pin.

Airborne Camera Support Photographer honored in Arizona ceremony, September 26, 2019

Credits: Story line by William Van der Ven in an email exchange with the EC-47 History Site Commemorative Partner Program Committee coordinator, Tom Nurre.

Nurre and Van der Ven met in San Angelo, TX, at the Vietnam War Veterans Day commemoration pinning event held at the Angelo State University LeGrand Alumni & Visitors Center on March 29, 2018. They also worked together in coordination with the NSDAR Old Glory Chapter in Franklin, TN, to honor the Gold Star daughter of a former Dumas, TX, veteran.  

This story is about honoring U.S. Air Force E-4 Buck Sergeant Mike Lyons who was assigned to the Detachment 7, 600th Photo Squadron during the Vietnam War from 1967 through 1968; under the command of Captain John E. Ford.

Lyons served as a motion picture photographer (COMDOC). His missions were primarily to document search and rescue (SAR) operations on both sides of the demilitarized zone (DMZ). He was shot down on one such flight as an H-53 crewmember and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions during that ordeal.

Lyons and his squadron were also tasked with documenting the Ranch Hand defoliate (Agent Orange) program carried out throughout South Vietnam, along the DMZ and into Laos, as well as the documentation of the air war by flying backseat in Cessna O-1 “birddogs,” O-2 Super Skymasters  and F-4’s.

Sergeant Lyons’ most dramatic motion picture documentation however, was when he and his still photographer counterpart, Lee Johnson, documented the artillery barrages by the North Vietnamese onto the Marine base of Khe Sanh during the Tet Offensive in January of 1968. 

Mike requested a copy of my book In My Viewfinder and we began an email correspondence that grew into a great friendship and consequently, we became good Vietnam buddies. We met at his Pinetop, Arizona cabin where he taught me fly fishing. 

I waited until the last day of my visit and had his wife Marcia “standing by” to present Mike the 50th Vietnam War Veteran Commemorative Lapel Pin.  I called Attention to Orders and read a brief background of the Commemoration program and its major objective of thanking all living Vietnam veterans for their service, sacrifice and valor…and welcoming them home the way they should have been honored 50 years ago. As Marcia attached the pin to his lapel, I detected a brief glisten on his cheek. We then shook hands and he and I went out for a well-deserved dinner. 

About William Van der Ven

Bill is originally from California, a small vacation/surfing town on the coast called Santa
He joined the Air Force in 1968. After basic training at Lackland AFB, he received
his technical training as a still photographer at Lowry AFB, in Denver, Colorado.

Upon graduation, his first duty station was with the 15th Reconnaissance Technical
Squadron at March AFB, California. He spent 2.5 years enjoying the sun, sand and easy
working conditions of a SAC base; "that's a joke, son" (with apologies to Leghorn).

Upon attending all the mandatory survival schools, Bill landed at Ubon Royal Thai
Air Force Base.

During his tour, 1971-1972, Bill flew backseat as an aerial reconnaissance, photographer,
documented the AC-130 gunship operations and the many CIVIC ACTION Programs run
by the joint USAF/Thai Government; he completed his tour as the photographer for the
base paper: The Phantom Flyer.

Upon leaving the Air Force, he received his teaching degree, re-joined the army reserves
where he finished his military career in Military Intelligence and Psychological Operations.

He and his wife of over twenty years, Louise Ann, an army veteran, and a former career
employee with the Social Security Administration have two sons: 
Eric the oldest is a veteran
of ENDURING FREEDOM, the initial invasion of Iraq and is now a career Defense Civil Servant.
The second son Peter is career Army with multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea.

In addition to Eric and Peter, they have four grandchildren.
Bill and Louise are now retired and living in the Memphis Area of Tennessee. 
In addition to being
the author of his memoir at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base titled: In My Viewfinder, Amazon
Kindle Edition, Bill has written a five volume set of guidebooks on canoeing and kayaking the
Central Sierra, titled: Up The Lake With A Paddle, Fine Edge Publishing.

Photos provided by Bill Van der Ven:

  • mike with ariflex
    Mike Lyons behind the lens of an Ari-Flex 16mm motion picture camera, the work horse of the COMDOC crew.
  • IMG 0088 (2)
    Sgt Lyons is 2nd from left with his personal 35mm Pentax around his neck.
  • Mike Lyons following pinning by Bill Van der Ven
    Mike Lyons still flushed with surprise, upon receiving his 50th Vietnam War Commemorative Lapel Pin.
    Lyons at his "office" seated next to his .22 small bore competition rifle; a sport he has engaged in for years.
  • ebook cover
    Screen view of Van der Ven's E-book: In My Viewfinder, An Air Force Photographer's Thailand Tour of Duty.