The Alameda County Firefighters Local 55 announced the sad passing of one of their own today. Henry Lyman served with the Emeryville Fire Department from 1945-1979 and retired as Chief of the Department. “We are saddened to announce the passing of a great man, Henry Lyman, the former Fire Chief of Emeryville Fire Department,” they noted in this Facebook post.
“Chief Lyman was always a humble man, and loathe to speak of himself,” noted a narrative credited to Sister Heather Marques. “He kept his many accomplishments and his service to his country very private, and consistent with this belief system, he has not just requested, but demanded no service be held to memorialize him. As one of his most loyal admirers, I would like to render this announcement like a kind of eulogy, since he will have none.”
Henry Lyman’s Eulogy:
Henry was an East Bay kid living in Emeryville and San Leandro, born during the first World War. His father was a Oakland Firefighter and one of the founding members of Local 55. His uncle was San Francisco Fire. If you see the antique engine in the Oakland Museum, you’ll see his father’s fire engine that fought the conflagrations of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Henry was in the Army in World War II. Everyone he worked with at Emeryville knew he had served, but never heard much about it. He was drafted in 1940, before war was formally declared. He served until 1945. It wasn’t until a conversation at the ACFD retiree luncheon in 2016 that his colleagues learned he was a bronze star recipient. This discovery prompted the development of a plan between his former Emeryville Fire friends and former ACFD Division Chief Winnacker. We decided to throw a surprise party for him, a private recognition ceremony. We invited the Chief to lunch at Station 34, and he would be shocked and amazed to find his family had gathered, as well as the USMC Honor Guard and the ACFD Honor Guard, and every uniformed member of our department who was able to attend. Henry nearly died that day, overwhelmed with the attention and moved to tears by the support.
What we shared was the story of a soldier, who had grown up in the heat of battle in the European Theater, pushing into enemy lines in the Battle of Remagen. He was a Staff Sergeant in the 9th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized. They were spearheading an attack on the town of Kassel. His Bronze Star citation from U.S. Army Major General Leonard reads:
… Staff Sergeant Lyman maneuvered his platoon with such exceptional tactical skill that the combat command was enabled to continue an uninterrupted advance. During this period, Staff Sergeant t Lyman effected the seizure of two towns, the capture of over one hundred prisoners, and neutralized all enemy resistance in the path of their progress. When his platoon leader was absent, Staff Sergeant Lyman assumed command of the platoon, he completed all its assigned missions with superior results, at one time, under intense enemy sniper fire and complete disregard of his own personal safety, Staff Sergeant Lyman evacuated four of his wounded men to safety. The outstanding leadership, aggressiveness, and devotion to duty, displayed by Staff Sergeant Lyman reflect great credit upon himself and the military service.
The scene represented here was such a famous story, there was a movie made about it. The bridge his platoon captured cut off more than 80,000 German soldiers. It was an epic victory and is remembered as one of the pivotal battles in bringing the war to a close. Henry never relayed any of this to his fire family, though he came home and served Emeryville Fire Department from 1945-1979, moving through the ranks and becoming Fire Chief. He was a well-respected leader, and as his daughter shared with me, was the “only man in the whole family who loved his job. The guys would drink beer and smoke cigarettes and complain, and Henry always said, ‘I love being a fireman!’”
I had the great honor of collecting the tidbits and clippings of Henry’s amazing life, many of which became contributions to the Alameda County Fire Department history book. In my research, I came to know him. In knowing him, I came to love him. Today I held his hand in his final hours. We were going to celebrate our birthdays together in October. He would be turning 100 years old. I hoped to ask him to pin my Captain’s badge. Today I had an even greater honor, to see a True Warrior off to Valhalla.
Please friends, raise a toast to the Chief. May he be enjoying the reunion of a lifetime tonight.