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Two men died recently who were a credit to their families, their community and their country.
I recall a defining moment about each man, one of which I witnessed and the other that was related to me.
Roy Lyons was an easy man to know. He loved to play golf, visit with friends at the local coffee cup and attend the Upper Room Bible class. He also taught Sunday school at one time. But what I remember most about him was his service to this nation as a highly decorated U. S. Marine.
One of nine children, Roy was attending what is now Western Kentucky University in the early 1940s on a football scholarship when he received word that his brother Irvin had been killed in action.
So he quickly dropped out of school and joined the Marines.
He survived lots of enemy fire during three different invasions, but the one that he remembered the most involved watching 15 of his buddies killed by Japanese snipers as they jumped, one after the other, out of their LST during the Iwo Jima invasion.
They were the first 15 out of the craft, and he was No. 16. His life flashed past him as he jumped into the water. But fate was not to be as the sniper’s bullet glanced off of his helmet and his life was spared. Iwo Jima represented the only World War II battle in which American casualties exceeded those of the Japanese.
Roy said he never quit thanking God for sparing his life. That life that he lived thereafter made everyone who ever knew him just a little bit richer.
I hired Alex Chambers shortly after I bought The Shelby Sentinel in 1962. A custodian-maintenance man, Alex was big, quiet and anxious to learn. He had applied for the job based on a conversation that he had had with another black man, “Tubby” Sullivan, who was learning the printing business in the back shop.
In 1965 the late Johnny Buckner, who owned a company called Coaches Choice, was putting together a softball league to help promote the use and sale of his bats, balls, and other types of sporting equipment. We decided to enter a Shelby Sentinel team and included Alex on our roster.
When the managers got together to share rosters and rules (we modified Daniel Field as our softball field), two of the managers objected to “having a colored man in the league.”
But Buckner backed me up, and Hubert Briscoe, always calm and collected and a great citizen, said, “Let’s play ball.” And the tension was quickly defused.
Alex became our starting left fielder. Like Jackie Robinson several years before, Alex rarely spoke, tended to business and did not respond to the many taunts during the early games. As the season wore on, Alex gained his admirers, particularly on our team, with his long home runs and stellar defense.
In later years I didn’t see Alex much, but he would invariably show up at the office to buy one of our new books. The last time I saw him we talked a little softball, about 1965, and “how times have sure changed.”
Alex might have been a quiet man but, like Roy, each let his life speak for itself.
William E. Matthews lives in Shelbyville.