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First Navy SEAL to become admiral dies at 93

This circa 1975 portrait by the U.S. Navy shows Adm. Richard "Dick" Lyon, the first Navy SEAL to rise to the rank of admiral. He served four decades in the Navy, including World War II and the Korean War. [U.S. Navy via AP]

This circa 1975 portrait by the U.S. Navy shows Adm. Richard "Dick" Lyon, the first Navy SEAL to rise to the rank of admiral. He served four decades in the Navy, including World War II and the Korean War. [U.S. Navy via AP]

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

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 the other SEALs during the elite military team's beginnings, showing them swimming with knives.

"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.

He 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. He later served in Korea.

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, 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 said Lyon inspired sailors aspiring to be a SEAL and would give talks to the would-be candidates at the SEALs training school in Coronado until recently.

Bonelli recalled that Lyon told them 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 served on 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.

First Navy SEAL to become admiral dies at 93 02/08/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 8, 2017 12:54am]
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