Seven years have passed since Retired Marine Sergeant Kenny Lyon sat down with CBS’s Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes.” With a wire holding his jaw together, Lyon vowed that he would fight to regain everything back that he lost in a mortar attack on May 1, 2006, while serving in Iraq.
Today, Lyon is well on his way. He loves to entertain friends, race cars and is in his first year of classes at the University of Mary Washington. Thanks to his classmates at UMW, his miraculous story of recovery will become a part of American history through the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project.
The Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center, a research center of the Library of Congress, collects and preserves personal stories from veterans so future generations can learn about the realities of war. Lyon is one of 24 veterans who were interviewed by UMW students to have their personal stories of service recorded in history.
Every fall since the creation of the project in 2000, Gary Stanton, associate professor of historic preservation and department chair, has assigned his American folklore students to record and transcribe a veteran’s personal story of service.
“We have students who go out of their way to connect with people,” said Stanton, citing how the project brings students together with their classmates, community members and family. The endeavor creates powerful moments for both the veterans who get to tell their story, and the students who get to listen, he said.
The initiative brought Caitlin McCafferty, a senior historic preservation major, closer to her grandfather who served during the Vietnam War as a U.S. Air Force member.
“He told me war stories that he hadn’t really told anyone else,” said McCafferty. “It’s important to get these stories so future generations can learn from them. It made me even prouder of him and thankful for what he has done for our country.”
Throughout the past decade, countless veterans, including students, administrators, facility workers and faculty members, have been interviewed for the project.
For Theresa Cramer, a junior historic preservation major and museum studies minor, the project was more than just a graded assignment. Cramer interviewed Susan Knick, director of scheduling and events at UMW, who is a major in the United States Army Retired Reserves and has been in the military since 1974.
“I felt very honored to transcribe and document her story for the Library of Congress,” Cramer said.
After students record each personal story, Stanton gathers the recordings and delivers them to the Library of Congress where they are permanently archived with the stories of tens of thousands of fellow service Americans in a searchable archive.
“It is a project in a class, and yet it also has this other component where it lives on,” said Stanton.
For Lyon, the project was a chance to tell his story of determination and recovery. Lyon signed up for the Marines as a mechanic when he was only 17, and went straight to boot camp at 18.
During his second tour of duty in Iraq in 2006, Lyon sustained extensive injuries in a mortar explosion attack. He fought through irreversible nerve damage, a shattered jaw and the loss of his left leg to make a miraculous recovery, all while remaining positive.
“You could look at somebody else who was missing two limbs or three limbs, who still has a smile on their face, and you’re like ‘Okay, my day is not that bad. I can push through,’” said Lyon, speaking of his experiences learning to walk with a prosthetic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Today Lyon lives in Stafford in a specially adapted home built by the Fredericksburg community, and given to him by Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that works with communities and builders to build houses for wounded veterans.
“I like continuing doing things in my life that I would have done had this not happened to me,” said Lyon.” I’m not going to hike Mount. Everest but I’m making a big effort to not have the prosthetic slow me down in any way. A lot of the things I do are me pushing to maintain my independence and keep doing things that I love despite all my injuries.”
The next chapter in his own story includes earning his degree, writing a book with his mother and becoming a motivational speaker to help inspire others who have been through similar situations.
“If I can help somebody through my story in any small way, to me it will have been worth it,” said Lyon.
The “60 Minutes” piece that includes an interview with Kenny Lyon is available at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-fighting-chance-27-10-2006. It contains graphic material that may not be suitable for all audiences.