By Cheryl RodewigMay 27, 2010
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The same pride in their step, the same warrior ethos as Soldiers before them, that's what MSG(R) Clancy Lyall saw Friday at the graduation of F Company, 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, he said.
"Same esprit de corps, no question," said the 85-year-old World War II veteran. "I've met many different generations different places ... met them in Afghanistan, met them in Europe, met them in the Pacific - active and retired. The only difference is the time of year. It's 2010, not '44 or '45."
Lyall, a veteran of E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the Airborne unit immortalized in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, traveled more than 700 miles from his home in Maryland to witness the graduation of his "adopted grandson," PFC Kellen Conway.
Conway first met Lyall through a World War II re-enactment group he joined, along with his father, Joe Conway, as a teenager. The three "hit it off," said Conway, who has stayed close to Lyall during the past four years.
"Ever since I was a little kid, I was always interested in the military," Conway said. "My father influenced me a lot with it. He has a lot of respect for veterans, which made me realize how important they were to all of us and the sacrifices they made. Since then I've always wanted to join (their) ranks. I turned 18 and I shipped out."
Conway said he felt honored to have Lyall present at his basic training graduation.
"I have so much respect for him," he said. "I joined the Army really to follow people like that, follow in their footsteps. It sends shivers down my spine how incredible this is. It's just amazing that he's here to see me become what he was.
"When I first started, I never thought this day would come, and now that I'm here, I'm just more proud than anything. I'm proud to be an American Soldier. It's honestly probably the best day of my life."
For Lyall, the graduation took him back to some of the best days of his life, too.
"This is where it starts," said the paratrooper, who remembers earning his jump wings at Fort Benning in 1943. "It reminds me of when I was younger. Every time you hear the music, I don't care if you're on your deathbed, you get up and you got to march. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, it's all the same. The only thing that changes is their uniform. They're like a band of brothers too ... same thing we had in Normandy."
Lyall said his first combat jump into Normandy was "scary" but he was looking out for his comrades in arms.
"You have each other's backs at all times," he said. "We went through as a company. That's where the band of brothers comes from. We're family and we run real tight, couldn't be any tighter."
The men of "Easy Company" gained fame for their courage and resilience during D-Day, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and the capture of Hitler's fortress, known as the Eagle's Nest.
Lyall, who served in each of these efforts, said it was all part of "duty, honor, country."
"My country went to war, so I went," he said. "Since the attack (on Pearl Harbor), anyone near that age ran to volunteer. If somebody hit your mother, what would you do' Think about your country as your mother."
Lyall continued to fight for his country, making two combat jumps into Korea and later deploying to Indochina. Since his retirement in 1962, he has continued to support military and veteran causes.
"He is a living legend and walking history for the United States Army Paratrooper," said 2nd Bn., 58th Inf. Regt., commander LTC Richard Timmons II, addressing friends and family present for the graduation at the National Infantry Museum's parade field. "Sir, we are honored by your presence and stand in awe of your service to our nation."
But Lyall, who joined the Army when he was 16, said he was no hero.
Instead, he was impressed with how "sharp" the graduates looked and with Conway's accomplishments.
"I don't see a difference between me and him at all, except age," he said. "I'm very proud of him."