John M. Lynch Jr., 92, WWII pilot, Boston police superintendent
Flying a bombing raid over Japan in August 1945, Lieutenant John M. Lynch Jr. felt heat from the floor of his Hellcat’s cockpit. Enemy guns on the ground had found their target. His boots were on fire. Turning the burning plane upside down, he opened the canopy and parachuted into the Sea of Japan.
A US submarine offered rescue, but he thought that he could spend weeks under the sea waiting to rejoin his fellow pilots aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex, so he waited for a Navy destroyer to find him.
At meal times on the Essex, the chairs of pilots killed in action were left empty for a time before a new pilot took the seat. Mr. Lynch, who flew dozens of combat missions, saw most seats turn over, and he expected his seat could be empty soon, he told his family. But days following his rescue, World War II was over. Offered the chance to fly back to Boston from Seattle, he opted for a six-day train ride. “He felt his lucky flying was up,” said his son Stephen.
At home in Dorchester, Mr. Lynch traded his wings for a badge and spent more than 30 years with the Boston Police Department, commanding the mounted patrol unit and becoming a superintendent in 1972. Mr. Lynch, who was assigned to provide security for three US presidents and who had a cameo in a 1964 Disney film about a police horse, died in his sleep Sept. 2 in his Hingham home. He was 92.
Witnessing a kamikaze pilot kill and wound dozens on the deck of the Essex gave Mr. Lynch an intense sense of gratitude for his own survival, according to his family.
“He said, ‘They flew right over me and wiped out the carrier deck next door, and from that day in my life I never sweated the small stuff,’ ” said his oldest son, John III. “He said, ‘Every day is a blessing. If you’re having a bad day, just keep going. Enjoy each day you have and make the most of them.’ ”
Mr. Lynch rarely spoke about the war, though. His family knew he was awarded medals but were surprised after he died to find commendations for two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.
“One thing we never saw was his official war record. Looking at the dates brought home the intensity of what was happening in his life then,” Stephen said.
Years after the war, Mr. Lynch was assigned a security detail when President Harry S. Truman stayed at the Boston Park Plaza. At the end of the day, Mr. Lynch told his family, Truman invited him and his partner into his suite for a shot of bourbon. “Fellas, let’s strike one for liberty,” Truman said, raising his glass.
Mr. Lynch recalled that he thanked the president for authorizing the use of atomic bombs, which ended the war and probably saved his life.
Edward O’Neil, a retired Boston police superintendent and a longtime friend, said Mr. Lynch was “full of fun.”
“He was a great person,” O’Neil said. “He was good with the public and the guys he worked with. There were no bad times with John Lynch.”
When Walt Disney came to film “The Tattooed Police Horse,” a saga about a washed-out harness racing trotter named Jolly Roger who makes good as a Boston police horse, Mr. Lynch played himself and hammed up his Boston accent.
Born in Dorchester, Mr. Lynch was the son of a machinist from Winchester and an Irish immigrant from Galway. He graduated from the Mechanic Arts High School and worked as a machinist before enlisting in the Navy.
He had wanted to be a pilot since he was a boy and completed military flight school in January 1944. On leave in March that year, he married Helen Curley, who had caught his eye as she walked by the Boston machine shop where he had worked. It took all his courage to introduce himself and ask her out, he told his family.
As a young police officer, he knew little about horses. When a slot with the mounted unit appeared, he took some riding lessons and passed the test. He was working nights then and wanted a day job that would allow him to spend more time with his family.
“John really liked being around the family,” said Boston district Fire Chief Dennis Keeley, who grew up near the Lynch family home in Dorchester. “I looked up to him. In the summertime, he had the barbecue going almost every night. As soon as I saw the smoke, I was over the fence.”
Keeley recalled that Mr. Lynch “used to say, ‘Denny you did good. Keep studying. Stay in the books, that’s how you get to the top of the pile.’ ”
When Keeley was promoted to district chief seven years ago, he invited Mr. Lynch and his wife to the ceremony. The Lynches sat next to Keeley’s parents. “My wife is pinning the badge on me and I’m looking out saying to myself, ‘There’s my four parents.’ It was thrilling,” Keeley said.
A service was held for Mr. Lynch, who in addition to his wife, Helen, and his sons Stephen and John, both of Brookline, leaves two other sons, Paul and James, and three daughters, Margaret Stonehouse, Helen F. Loomis, and Kathleen M. Cochrane, all of Hingham; a sister, Mary Kaveney of Falmouth; 17 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
As leader of the mounted patrol unit, Mr. Lynch oversaw the unit’s response to violent protests against the Vietnam War and busing during school desegregation. He also rode at the front of local parades, including the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston.
“I can’t explain the amount of prestige and pride we experienced seeing my dad in those parades,” said Stephen, who recalled that he once told his father: “ ‘Dad, you have a different face on when you sit on your horse.’ He said, ‘Son, I have to show the horse who’s boss and sometimes he has to show the people on the street who is boss. If I don’t sit on him with a certain authority, all is lost.’ ”
A relative once remarked, “John Lynch was the man John Wayne wanted to be.”
“He was a gentle and tough man,” Stephen said.
J.M. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com