Remembering Lyons Today and Always

Daily Globe Staff Reporter

SHELBY - Today marks the 9th anniversary of the death of our featured Veteran, Lance Corporal Christopher Lyons. Lyons died in the line of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom on July 28, 2005 when his unit, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces, (Lima Company 3/25), came under attack by enemy small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades while conducting combat operations in Cykla, Iraq.

Lima Company 3/25 suffered huge losses between March 2005 and January 2006, with the majority of the losses being between May and August 2005. Overall, the unit would lose 23 Marines. 11 were killed in a single day, August 11, 2005 in Barwanah, Iraq. It has been proclaimed that the Lima Company was the hardest hit unit in the entire Iraq War.

Lyons was a 1999 Shelby High School and PCTC graduate. Lyons married his wife, Bethany, in 2003 and together, they had one daughter, Ella, whom Lyons had not had the opportunity to hold. He met his daughter through the Internet and photographs. This made his death all the more tragic.

The news of Lyons' death was announced locally in a local publication on July 30, 2005 with the headline, "Marine never got to hold infant daughter." A stunning young Marine in camouflage peered off the page directly into the reader's eyes with an intensity that made this story very real and very personal. Even those who didn't know Lyons would feel an immense amount of sorrow for his wife and infant daughter and would mourn his death and honor his sacrifice.

Kerri Mellick, a co-worker of Lyons, recalled the "Worst day at work. Ever. Coming in to work to find out one of your co-workers has been killed in battle; that's a bad day," she said. "Chris was one of a kind. He was driven. He had a full life for someone who was 24 years old, and he had a lot more to offer."

Sherri Janeczek went to high school with Lyons and considered him a friend. "He would be the first to lend a hand if you needed help. Chris was one of the nicest people that you could ever meet. I am proud to say that I knew such an amazing person and that he is deeply missed!" she said.

Lyons' unit would be memorialized through a movie documentary, "Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company", directed by Michael Epstein, which was released in May 2006. Much of the video was filmed by the Marines of the Lima Company themselves. It details the lives and deaths of the men in the unit, including Lyons. After its release, his widow told reporters viewing the film was "therapeutic" and that she viewed all of the Marines as "heroes".

Locally, a monument stands downtown in Roush Park for Lyons. Local police officer and Marine John Magers was the driving force behind the monument, which was dedicated on May 27, 2006. According to Magers, he raised funds for the monument, called Project Hometown Hero, "through newspaper articles, speaking with civic groups, the VFW, Legion, Eagles, etc." Magers raised the money and organized the dedication in about three months' time. The monument consists of a plaque, a fence, and a combat cross (a bronze pair of combat boots, a weapon and a combat helmet).

Lyons' widow Bethany, baby Ella, his parents, and fellow Marines attended the dedication along with about 100 locals. Regarding the dedication, Magers said, "I did not know Christopher, but he was a fellow Marine. If you don't know, Marines have a bond other branches of the service don't seem to have. When I read of his death, I had a son that was 18 months old. I saw he had an infant daughter he never got to hold. I didn't want her coming back to Shelby someday and thinking no one cared about his sacrifice," Magers said.

The tragic losses of Lyons and his comrades inspired Anita Miller of Sunbury, Ohio to create life-sized paintings of the Ohio members of Lima Company and display them in the Ohio State House Rotunda. Her dream came to life in 2008, where the Lima Company Memorial: The Eyes of Freedom, was displayed for six months before going on tour to other museums and events. The memorial travels all over the United States as a remembrance of all who have served. The traveling monument is currently on display out of state, but will be back in Ohio Saturday, August 9th at Westerville for the 9/11 Heroes Run and on Saturday, August 23rd at Chillicothe for the Aaron Reed Veterans Awareness Benefit.

Lyons' widow, Bethany Hunter, hopes his memory continues to live on with others as it does with her and her family. "I remarried less than a year after Christopher's death, to his best Marine buddy and squad leader, Sgt. Jeff Hunter. They spent long hours on patrols and watches, and spoke a lot about life outside Iraq. Jeff shares stories with me now of Christopher. He said that Christopher was so excited to be a daddy and so in love with his family. Everyone who knew us knew how much we loved each other," she recalled.

"Christopher looked forward to coming home, and talked about it all the time. He loved to write and loved Scrabble. But beyond that, he was well-loved and friends with everyone."

Regarding his daughter and her new marriage, Hunter explained, "Ella is now nine and we work hard to incorporate Christopher into our lives. Jeff and I have a relationship built on mutual loss and grief, and we share Christopher with a lot of people. We have three kids together: Atticus Christopher Elliot, Emerson James Leonidas, and Mathilda Eowyn Annette. The kids know Atticus is named after my first husband and Ella's first daddy."

"I know that Christopher was doing something he believed in when he became a Marine, and he felt like he was making a difference in lives in both Iraq and America. He was a lover, not a fighter, to be cliche, and yet, he was a Marine. He loved life and loved to make the other Marines laugh, but he had a deep side, too.

"Often when he'd call me from Iraq he'd tell me to tell him about the mundane details of life, because he wanted to remember that there was a life waiting for him here. Christopher and I loved poetry by e.e. cummings. A line of his that we repeated to each other is, "I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart."

"I am still affected by Christopher's life and his death," Hunter disclosed, "but I'm more affected by his love for me, which I'll carry in my heart until I die. Jeff somehow understands this, and grieves with me each year. Ella sometimes gives us a look and Jeff and I turn to each other and say, 'That was Christopher.'

"There's an inscription on Christopher's headstone that reads "my love my joy my life." It's from a poem I wrote for him while we were dating. He may no longer be here physically but he is and always will be in my heart," Hunter professed.

"I'm honored that people are still remembering, still taking a moment to remember my husband. He was an amazing man, and I was proud to call him mine."

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