Otto Lyons Jr.

Oral History Session with Germantown Historic Commission

April 21, 2008

Otto Franklin Lyons, Jr. was born on October 21, 1922, in Memphis, TN.  His father, Otto Franklin Lyons (b. 1892) was in the electrical business in Memphis.  As a young boy of 3, Otto played the drums.  Later, along with Bill Justis, Reeves Hughes, and Ju Ju Clark, the group played on tour all over the South.

In 1934, his father bought a house across from Idlewild Church (later Seessels and then Kroger), had it taken down, cleaned, and moved to Germantown to 7904 Poplar Pike for $134.   A house had burned on that lot and the house that was moved was rebuilt and put over the existing basement.  There were 14 acres and the land came with three (3) cows.  Friends thought they were moving “out of the country.”

As a teenager, Otto along with friends and his brother built an airplane in their backyard.  They gathered things such as a washing machine motor (the engine), wood, and cloth from draperies and in a few months had built a plane that could be “flown’, while tethered to a long metal pole.

Poplar Pike was the main highway in the 30s and 40s, as Poplar Avenue had not been completed.  There were ten (10) trains a day including six (6) passenger trains passing by the property.  Cedar trees lining Poplar Pike were planted by Indians to mark the trail on the ridge and some were still standing.

Otto had a very distinguished career flying and teaching new pilots about C-47s.  He also flew gliders during World War II.  His was the 20th glider to land in the liberation of Holland at Niemegan.  That mission was later immortalized in the book and film “A Bridge Too Far.”

After the war, Otto worked as an electrical engineer with General Electric in their nuclear division.

Otto was also the first acolyte for the newly built St. George’s Episcopal Church near the Masonic Lodge and Presbyterian Church on the southwest corner of West Street and McVay.  Later when a new church was built north of Poplar Avenue, he extinguished the last candle in the original church.

Otto met his wife, Nadina, in Lubbock, Texas while stationed there.  They had three sons, Otto III, Rogers, Keith, and one daughter, Melissa.

7904 Poplar Pike, Germantown, TN

7904 Poplar Pike, Germantown, TN

Germantown’s First and Last Airport, Circa 1938 (L-R:  Robert Lyons, David McGehee (cockpit), Otto Lyons, Harry Lyons

Germantown’s First and Last Airport, Circa 1938
(L-R:  Robert Lyons, David McGehee (cockpit),
Otto Lyons, Harry Lyons)
Note:  Plane motor furnished by Mrs. Lyon’s washing machine. Plane housing furnished by Mrs. McGehee’s living room drapes.

Otto and Nadina during WWII

Otto and Nadina during WWII