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John T. Lynch, decorated World War II bomber pilot and later, a lawyer, dies at 96

A folded flag sits on a casket during ceremonial funeral training at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 22, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

John T. Lynch, 96, of Wayne, a World War II bomber pilot who later became a lawyer, died at home Monday, Oct. 26, of complications from a fall in February.

Mr. Lynch was a native Midwesterner who moved to Newtown Square in 1971 and lived in Wayne starting in 2011.

Born in Duluth, Minn., to Naomi and John E. Lynch, he spent his childhood in humble circumstances in La Porte, Ind. His mother was a single mom, and he credited his foundation in faith and love of music to time spent in the care of Hungarian missionaries and the women of the local African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Mr. Lynch worked as a roofer while attending La Porte High School and graduated in 1942 as president of the French Club. He was accepted to Northwestern University in Illinois on a scholarship, but interrupted his schooling in 1943 to attend Army flight school. He entered World War II as a B-17 bomber pilot.

He served from March 1943 to November 1945, when he was discharged with the rank of first lieutenant, according to his military discharge papers. His bombing missions were over Italy, the Balkans, and the Rhineland. He was decorated with the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters.

“He was a terrible worrier, but also wildly adventurous,” said his granddaughter, Amelia Lynch.

He flew 39 missions with nary a scratch, his Army records show. He gave credit for success to his crew and prayer. He was the youngest and last surviving crew member.

“He remembered the Tuskegee Airmen who flew escort missions alongside him with immense gratitude and deference,” his family said in a tribute.

He was reluctant to share his war stories, saying, “War is hell,” and that it should be avoided at all costs.

Mr. Lynch said he enjoyed the company of his crew, and meeting Padre Pío, the Italian priest who would later be named a saint, and Pope Pius XII. Years later, during a visit to Soggia, Italy, where he had been stationed, Mr. Lynch was recognized by a local man, who had been a child during the war. The man thanked Mr. Lynch for helping his family survive by sharing his own food rations.

After the war, Mr. Lynch earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Valparaiso University in Indiana, a master’s degree from Northwestern University in Illinois, and a law degree from Indiana University.

He taught history and political science for a year at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago before switching to the law. His first job in 1951 was as counsel for the New York Central Railroad, and he went on to represent Penn Central and then Conrail. He retired in 2014 as the editor of a legal review bulletin.

He was in charge of more than 900 lawyers during his career and was honored for his efforts to hire Black attorneys by the National Bar Association and members of the NAACP. His work was also recognized by the Association of American Railroads.

In retirement, he volunteered as an aide in the psychiatric unit at Haverford State Hospital. He believed that “mental health was as important as physical health,” his family recalled.

In 1990, he was given the title of Sagamore of the Wabash by Evan Bayh, then governor of Indiana, in recognition of his leadership and compassion for humanity.

Aside from career achievements, Mr. Lynch was a prolific writer and speaker of several foreign languages. He was known for his quick wit, dry sense of humor, and for thanking his medical caregivers.

He enjoyed traveling the world with his wife, Joan, whom he married in 1958, and liked listening to her play the piano.

“He taught his sons and grandchildren how to sail on Cape Cod and laugh through life’s adventures,” the family said. “He will be sorely missed.”

His wife died in 2011. Two brothers and a sister also died earlier. He is survived by his sons, Mark and Frank, and two grandchildren.

Services will be later.

Memorial donations may be made to the Pipe Organ Fund, c/o Wayne United Methodist Church, 210 S. Wayne Ave., Wayne, Pa. 19087. Mr. Lynch was a member of the church for 49 years.


(c) 2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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