Jack Lyon made history in 1944, helping 76 prisoners of Stalag Luft III escape through a clandestine tunnel before it was discovered by the Germans.
Only three of those prisoners ever made it to freedom. The other 73 were recaptured, and 50 summarily executed, on direct order from Adolf Hitler.
You may have heard the story before. It was turned into a major motion picture starring Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Richard Attenborough, James Garner and a host of other Hollywood stars in 1963.
Lyon said it was “absolute rubbish.”
“Not one American took part in it, and as for the motorbike, it never existed,” he told the BBC on his 100th birthday in 2017.
Lyon acted as lookout during the escape, but never made it outside the prison itself. The Nazis descended on the tunnel before he could make it out.
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The former Royal Air Force navigator’s life would have turned out much differently, were he just a few minutes ahead.
“Had I got out, I probably wouldn’t be talking to you because my chances of getting home were virtually nil,” Lyon said. “I was under no illusions about that.”
At 101 years old, Lyon had nearly made it to the 75th anniversary of the escape before he died, taking the story of what really happened in those tunnels, was buried along with him.
“Jack belonged to a generation of servicemen we are sadly losing as time goes on,” said RAFBF chief executive Air Vice Marshal David Murray. “His legacy and those of his brave comrades who planned and took part in the audacious Great Escape breakout, are the freedoms we enjoy today.
“To truly pay tribute to his memory and all this who have gone before him, we must never forget.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.