Life ‘still an adventure’ for three-war veteranDecember 26, 2017
By CANDY NEAL
JASPER — Veteran Wayne Lytle served in the U.S. Navy during three wars — World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
That sounds like a lot. But Lytle, 88, just shrugs it off as no big deal.
“It’s just the way my orders fell,” he said.
Lytle’s whole life — from joining the Navy as a 17-year-old Iowa kid in 1946 to moving to Jasper in the 1980s — has been a series of moves and happenstance.
Lytle’s father did not want him to join. “He kept saying that I could get a job at the Oliver Tractor Corp. (of Charles City, Iowa), where he worked,” Lytle said. “He had me all planned out.
“Well, I had other plans. I wanted to see some of the world.”
Lytle’s paternal grandfather, who lived nearby, convinced his father to sign the needed papers to let the under-aged Lytle join the Navy. In June 1946, he was on a train to San Diego for boot camp. After boot camp, he was sent to Naval Station Sangley Point in Cavite City, Philippines to work on Navy planes.
“It was the end of the war then. And all the people who had been in the war were getting out,” Lytle said. “The guy who was crew chief was training me; I was his assistant. And then all of a sudden, the Navy said, ‘The job is yours.’”
So Lytle became the crew chief, which meant he was responsible for all the enlisted men on the crew. He also had to keep the airplane and crew ready for flight.
“As a 17-year-old kid, I was on my first aircraft for about three or four months, and suddenly I was crew chief. The stress was really bad. I was just a kid coming from a tiny town in Iowa. I’d never done this before.
“It was stressful, and I had the ulcers to prove it.”
His squad took care of planes that used sonar to search for submarines. The squad also went to China to get the airplanes the United States let the government use for the war and brought them back to the United States.
In 1949, the squadron left the Philippines and went to Naval Air Station Barbers Point in Hawaii. He got TDY orders, which means temporary additional duty, to go to Marks Air Force Base in Nome, Alaska.
“The Navy had planes up there mapping Alaska, so to speak,” he said. “The squadron that was doing the filming (for the mapping) was short of people, so they sent me.”
He worked in Alaska for about nine months and then headed to Corpus Christi, Texas, though he was sent out again.
“As the new guy of the squadron, they sent me to Memphis to move Navy schools from Memphis to Jacksonville,” he recalled. For six months, which included the winter, he drove an 18-wheeler that hauled equipment for the schools.
After that duty, he went back to Corpus Christi to train pilots on how to fly multi-engine planes. He was also the flight engineer. “The crew was training pilots from France, Australia, all kinds of places, to fly aircraft with two engines,” he said.
Lytle had never flown a plane, and he didn’t fly them when he was training others. So how did he learn how to train others to do it?
“Trial and error, like everything else,” he said with a laugh.
While in Texas, he got married in 1951 to the late Wanda (Martin). Soon after, they had their only child, a son they named Vic. In 1952, the family moved to Colon, Panama for Lytle’s next duty: patrolling the Pacific and the Panama Canal. They stayed about 15 months, until 1953, when Lytle returned to Corpus Christi to train pilots.
In 1956, he moved to a squadron in Hawaii and then went to Iwakuni, Japan, twice, six months each time. “The first trip, I was a military policeman.”
During the second six-month stint, in 1958, “I got on a crew where we were hunting for Russian submarines.”
After those duties, he and the family came back to the United States, to Kingsville, Texas, so that Lytle could serve on a jet squadron as a jet mechanic. He then went back to Barbers Point in 1962 to work on a transport squadron. “We ferried military men and families all over the world,” he said.
That was his last station. He retired from the Navy in 1965.
After retiring, he and his family went back to Texas, where he worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 20 years before retiring in 1985.
In 1989, the couple looked into moving to Indiana; a cousin of Lytle’s lived in the area. The couple ended up finding a house to rent in Jasper. “She liked Jasper,” Lytle said of his wife.
Ultimately, they built a house in Jasper. A few years ago, they downsized to the apartment Lytle still lives in now.
The couple was married for 64 years before Wanda died in May 2016.
Lytle said his life is still an adventure. He’s learning to cook. And he has people he visits and chats with. But now, he’s living a quiet, peaceful and low-key life. And he is thankful that his father signed papers to let him start his military adventure 68 years ago.
“It’s been a good life,” Lytle said. “I wanted to see other countries, and I did that. And I smile every month I go to the bank.”
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