War on Their Minds
  George Lewis
Age in 1941: 18

Interview Team: Hank Sway

This is Hank Sway, and I'm interviewing my grandfather, George Lewis, at his home, on May 27th, 2001.
Q: My first question is how old were you in 1941?

Mr. Lewis: I was 18 years old.
Q: What is your place of birth and where were you raised?

Mr. Lewis: I was actually born in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1923, and I was raised in Wayland, Massachusetts, from the time right after my birth.
Q: During the 30's, to what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany?

Mr. Lewis: I have to admit that I knew very little about what was going on in other parts of the world. I knew almost nothing about the rise of Nazi Germany; I knew absolutely nothing about what Japan was doing in those years, except making tinny toys for children… But I really was not aware of the development of concentration camps, or Japan's idea that they wanted to rule eastern Asia.
Q: How did you first become aware of the dangers in Europe and Asia?

Mr. Lewis: I think that I didn't really fully grasp what was going on until after the war was over… I read a little column in the Globe called "This Day in History," and I keep seeing a lot of things taking place in 1939, 1940, 1941… Well in 1940, I was a senior… in high school and in that year England and Germany were at war and I guess I read the headlines about it… I read about the situation at Dunkirk in France where the British army was taken off the beaches… Gee, I was probably was having a good time up in Vermont… I was aware of very little.
Q: When you better grasped what was happening, what were your reactions to events such as the invasion of Poland, or the Battle of Britain?

Mr. Lewis: I think I should have reacted much stronger than I did. For example, when I was a freshman in college, which was in 1941, I had members of my class quit school… to go to France and drive an ambulance or to work with the firefighters during the burning of London… There was actually a group of us freshmen who talked about going to England to help… Very few of us did anything about it.
Q: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?

Mr. Lewis: I was in Wayland.
Q: What are your general remembrances of it?

Mr. Lewis: Shock. I had not dreamed that we would suddenly be thrust into a war, and I was particularly shocked that we got so badly knocked around. We were a pretty invincible nation. I grew up thinking about America as being the greatest country in the world, and to think that somebody else, especially those Japanese, which most people felt were an inferior race, could pummel us so thoroughly, and we looked so stupid. It was a terrible shock.
Q: Did you feel that the declaration of war was justified? Did you think that was a good measure to take?

Mr. Lewis: I did. I thought that was the only thing to do… Newsreels were a big thing in those days; when you went to the movies, you got about 10 to 15 minutes of black and white newsreel. Every theater showed it. So we immediately saw Pearl Harbor movies… and we saw Roosevelt making his speech to the Congress. I think I also listened to the radio… I think I actually heard the Roosevelt broadcast in Cambridge where I was in college and I was in an apartment and somebody said, "Roosevelt's coming on the radio!" and we heard the speech…
Q: So you did think it was a justified measure?

Mr. Lewis: Oh yes, oh absolutely.
Q: Did that feeling change during or after the war?

Mr. Lewis: No, I think it grew stronger because there was so much going on that I didn't realize… Take all the things that were happening in Europe, particularly the persecution of the Jews was something that never dawned on me as something that would ever happen… By the end of the war I knew something about that but I didn't know nearly as much as I learned in the next 10 or 15 years, about what we now call the Holocaust, the concentration camps… So that just cemented my idea that we were lucky to get into it as early as we did.
Q: Under what circumstances did you join the armed forces?

Mr. Lewis: I was like every male my age, listed by the Selected Service System… It was actually centered in Waltham, but we had a little board here in Wayland, with I think three men in Wayland who supervised the selection of people for the military. The military would say, "We need 100 men in May," or "We need 200 men in June." Wayland was a town rich in young men; we had more men than the draft board wanted. So even though I had my draft card, I didn't go and I didn't go and I didn't go… So finally about June of 1943, I told my draft board, "I'm ready to go!"
Q: So you weren't actually called?

Mr. Lewis: No… I won't call it volunteering, but I was tired of waiting around. It's like being on the football team and it's third quarter and you haven't gotten in yet!
Q: Which branch did you join?

Mr. Lewis: I stood at a table in Fort Devens and a man said to me, "Well, what would you like, the army or the navy?" I had ten seconds, less than that, to make up my mind and I probably thought I'm more likely to get killed in the army for some reason, and the navy sounded more romantic, so that's how I picked the navy. It's amazing.
Q: So you only got to choose in that split second?

Mr. Lewis: That' s it. That was it.
Q: If you had had more time to choose, would you have made the same decision, do you think?

Mr. Lewis: Before I was "drafted," I was in college and I was studying aerial photography, and it seemed to me that that would be a very useful thing for the military, and I made tremendous efforts, even taking the train to Washington D.C., to try to get into the Marine Aerial Photography System, because I had a friend who was a Major in the Marine Corps Aerial Photography. But since I wore glasses, I was not considered suitable, and I was a little irritated at that, and so as a result I was just cannon fodder for the Navy. I had no choice of saying, "Hey! I'm so and so, and I have these skills," so that was it.
Q: What was your family's reaction when you joined?

Mr. Lewis: Oh, I think my family was actually quite… My mother and father were probably happy, pleased that I was going into the military, because I had an older brother who had an Employment Deferment; he was given freedom from the draft because he was an aviation engineer. So, maybe my father, who didn't go to World War One, maybe thought that this was an appropriate thing to do.
Q: Did they think that you would bring the family some glory or the like?

Mr. Lewis: I don't think so… I'm sure my mother was apprehensive, although she never said that she was. There was an enormous feeling of participation. Everybody wanted to do something. When the war effort got rolling, my mother was an enthusiastic recycler, of metals, saved cans of fat and actually joined a military ambulance unit, wore a uniform, she looked very spiffy in it. So, everybody wanted to do something, and young men aged 18 to 20 or so, you absolutely wanted to go, because all your peers were going.
Q: What was it like saying good-bye to your loved ones? Where were you? How did it feel?

Mr. Lewis: I left in June or July of 1943. I left Wayland… I guess there were lots of kissing and hugging, and by then I was married, so I had a wife to kiss and hug, and I guess everybody was very stoical, and very little weeping that I remember, and I went off on the train to Virginia to Navy boot camp.
Q: What are your remembrances of that experience?

Mr. Lewis: Not as bad as I feared. I had a Marine sergeant in charge of my unit in boot camp, and we all knew how tough the Marines were, we probably had seen John Wayne movies of how tough they get. But actually I enjoyed it, except for the heat. I pitched right in, I got right in with everybody, and interestingly enough I was assigned to the SeaBees, which was a construction battalion for the Navy, not out on a battleship, or anything like that… My romance was immediately doused. But my Marine sergeant was a terrific guy, he was really wonderful, I thought, and he never hit me, beat me, made me creep and crawl on my hands on knees, and I think I learned a lot about myself; I was on my own and had to sort of defend myself, and I liked the guys I was with.

Q: How long were you there?

Mr. Lewis: Three or four months actually. Although the basic drill was I think six weeks… We used to have Sunday parades where thousands of men would line up in this gigantic flat field and stand in the sun and wait and wait and wait and wait to be reviewed, and every once in a while somebody would keel over, we'd see this figure go plop… Anyway, after basic training, which was a lot of it very physical, climbing over all those obstacles and stuff like that, a lot of work with guns, shooting, I was hoping to become a sharpshooter because I had a gun as a boy, thought I was a good shot… I didn't make the top category of sharpshooter… We learned a lot of other odds and ends about military life, and at the end of that everybody was sent to some school, I wasn't yet in a battalion as such, so I went, I believe my first school was mosquito control school, and we had a four to six week program of mosquito control, blasting ditches in marshes, and learning a lot about mosquitoes, how they breed… I think it was good training for going to the Pacific actually, rather than to Alaska… And then I was shipped to Rhode Island… I don't think I was yet assigned to a unit, and I went to fire fighting school, this was ground fire fighting, in other words not on a ship… and I learned particularly about how to run a small diesel- or gasoline-driven pump, about the size of a small car, so that I could get that pump going and get it ready to shoot water in 11.5 seconds, you know it was that kind of training. Speed was of the essence. And I was there all winter, which enabled me to come home and see my family, see my wife, and learn a little bit more… I'd gotten promoted to seaman first class or something right at the bottom of the barrel, and then I was sent to California.
Q: So after your training and you were in California, where were you sent?

Mr. Lewis: First I went to San Francisco. I was at a base inland from San Francisco. It was beautiful. I got there in the spring when there was snow on the mountains nearby but it was California weather down where I was, and I had a lot of liberty in San Francisco, which is a great city, great for sailors, and I don't remember what I did there, I think I went to another school, but I can't remember what it was. And then I went down to [the SeaBee base], which is near Los Angeles, which I didn't like as well as San Francisco, and I was then in the 106th Construction Battalion, which is about maybe 1500 men. Almost all of them were older than I was. Almost all of them had a trade; they were either bulldozer operators, carpenters, cement workers… They were people who had skills, and I didn't have many skills, so I was assigned to the sort of most menial chores, but eventually I got myself involved in working with a group of I'd say carpenters, so when I finally got up into higher ranks I became a carpenter's mate. So I got a lot of travelling, and from that point of view I really enjoyed it, got a lot of liberty and lease.
Q: So what sort of specific things did you do in that battalion as a carpenter's mate?

Mr. Lewis: I built concrete forms for storage buildings… You see I went to an island in the Pacific that was a staging base for the invasion of Japan. In order to get there, I had to get through the Okinawa Campaign, which meant that everybody in my unit was a fighting person, guns and all that stuff. When we got to Okinawa, I was living one of those newsreels, all of us lined up on deck, everybody had enough rations for about a week or 10 days for food, a gun, ammunition, a gas mask, an entrenching tool, a shovel, and all that kind of gear, very heavy helmet, and also your clothes… So you climbed over the edge of the ship down one of these rope nets and the landing craft is bobbing in the water down below, and you're lucky you don't get banged against the side of the ship, and you get into the landing craft, and the guy takes it out and buzzes around in the water for a few minutes, and then they give the signal and you go in and the little landing craft runs up on the beach and drops a ramp down into the water, and you run down the ramp into the water… All I could think of was those newsreels… Then we went inland a short distance, fortunately there were no Japanese right behind the beach, somebody else had helped clean them out, and I spent that night in about a 12-inch-deep ditch in a rice paddy, and I'm sure it began to rain, and so the water was coming in, and I had to share this one- or two-man tent, very easy to put up but only about three feet high, you had to squeeze down into it… Anyway I had a big burly guy from Pennsylvania and I huddled in this thing… There was shooting going on all night long; if we raised our heads we were going to get shot, so we were very careful. Then for the next several weeks were too busy cleaning up the island, getting rid of the Japanese soldiers who were still around, and doing fighting kind of chores… But the main goal of my unit was to build an airfield on this island. Actually in the construction of that airfield I operated a bulldozer for a number of weeks, I was interesting in doing anything that was kind of fun, and running a bulldozer was definitely fun… The island was coral, so you could go anywhere you wanted to and grind up a load of coral; it was the basis of the land. And so a bulldozer could really dig a lot of coral out of the ground. There were things like that to do. We did build an airstrip, and interestingly enough it was manned by a Marine air unit with airplanes that my brother was busy designing and making in Connecticut, it was called the Corsair, it was a gull-winged plane, quite attractive. And then after a couple of months, a lot of equipment began arriving, and so they needed storage rooms, storage units, so I got working with a wonderful group of carpenters. We had to pour the concrete walls and bases for things like Quonset huts, they were those small metal buildings that could be easily erected, very ingenious… We were going to store all the ammunition that was going to be needed for the invasion of Japan, which was only a few hundred miles away, so bit by bit the island began to be covered with hundreds and hundreds of trucks and trailers, and all kinds of munitions… The weather was nice, it was summer, there were no more Japanese shooting at you, we did a lot of poking around in ruins… We also did a lot of souvenir hunting, from the day we got on the island we were always on the lookout for something Japanese, a sword or something… Within a month or so I had found a great big Japanese gun… only weighs about forty pounds… I don't think many people found Samurai swords, there were plenty of them around, but by that time they were selling… I got a Japanese flag… The stuff was everywhere, particularly guns… We had quite a number of Japanese planes fall on our island where we were, crash, and the favorite thing was to go and cut the metal off the wings with the red, and make aluminum bracelets for the girlfriend or wife; I made a nice one for Shirley, and I scraped the paint away so there was a little red ball in the middle of it. I don't think it was very comfortable to wear…
Q: So what other sort of operations were you involved in?

Mr. Lewis: In August, I believe, the Japanese sued for surrender… First we had the atom bomb, as it was known in those days. That was a great shock; I had no idea naturally that anything like that… We got the news; we were all waiting to go to Japan, and I think we probably all felt that was going to be a tough assignment… It didn't worry me particularly, but anyway… One day somebody said, "Hey! Did you hear we dropped an atom bomb on Japan!" And we all wondered what an atom bomb was, and what is atomic energy, we'd heard the word "atom," but nobody knew anything about it… Over our island flew the flying fortresses that were bombing Japan, from Saipan and Guam and those other places, all day long, all night long, these monster planes were flight right overhead, were right on the route to Tokyo, so to speak, so we were aware that Japan was taking a terrible licking, and we also got that in the newspapers… After the fighting in Okinawa stopped, we got local newspapers, Stars and Stripes, and things like that, so we got a lot of news about what was going on the war. So when the atom bomb came and two days later there was a second one, and President Truman was on the radio… So they had a deal by which the Japanese agreed to surrender, but MacArthur mad them go to Manila in the Philippines, to start the ball rolling, so the planes, I think there were two of them, which carried the Japanese emissaries… stopped on our island. They were white planes with green crosses, I don't know who thought of that, and they landed on the airstrip that we had built, got out and had a drink and whatever… And then they went on to the Philippines, so that was pretty exciting, because we saw the guys who were going to go sign the surrender… So after the war ended I stayed on Okinawa for four or five months; it was tough to get home.
Q: So how long overall were you overseas?

Mr. Lewis: About a year.
Q: What did you miss most about the U.S.? Was there anything in particular that struck you?

Mr. Lewis: You've got to remember that by this time I'm 20 or 21, we played baseball, we had plenty of sports, I learned to play cribbage, I actually won the cribbage championship of my unit once, believe it or not. I don't know what I missed… The food wasn't too bad… During the fighting on the island you ate out of little tiny cans, supposedly different meals of the day, but you ate whatever you could get, a lot of it out of cans or dried. There was a wonderful like health bar, that had prunes and apricots and stuff all squashed together. And every food container that we got, like a meal, had cigarettes, four or six cigarettes in a small package. Chesterfield was a very popular brand. I smoked at that time… everybody smoked.
Q: So you tried to find ways to recreate life in the U.S. overseas?

Mr. Lewis: Yeah, absolutely.
Q: Would say you were ever involved in direct combat?

Mr. Lewis: Yes.
Q: What was the most challenging thing about that, the most difficult thing?

Mr. Lewis: The most difficult thing was finding the dead Americans. The first time I found a dead American soldier was a jolting experience. I took his dogtags off and I thought I'd never forget his name. Well I have forgotten his name, but he was a member of the 77th Infantry Division, that had done much of the fighting on the island. I took them to the graves registration officer… Hard to believe, but when a unit goes out it has a graves registration officer, or maybe several people whose job it is to keep records of that. I also was involved in burying probably a couple hundred Japanese men, and several dozen Japanese horses… The Japanese army still ran on horsepower, the island had hundreds of horses that were killed during the invasion. It's a very tough job to bury a 2000 pound horse, particularly covered with flies and maggots, yucky, and many of the men were badly decomposed…
Q: Was dealing with all this death and dying the most difficult part of the experience?

Mr. Lewis: Well, you know that was also part of the… I don't want to use the word "romance," but that's what you sort of expected. And it didn't last very long… I was in much greater danger from airplanes coming overhead and bombing than from the Japanese soldiers on the ground.
Q: What was your attitude towards the Japanese on a personal level? I mean, when you saw a Japanese person, what did you think about them?

Mr. Lewis: Inhuman.
Q: Did you hate them?

Mr. Lewis: No, I don't think that would be the right word… Somehow they were the enemy. I didn't look upon them as people, that this was [an individual person], some guy who had a wife and children back in Japan… I've thought a lot about that… Fortunately I never found any things on individuals that show pictures of their families… I see that in movies… But I do have to say that I didn't think of them as equal to Americans, Europeans, they were an alien culture. It wasn't until I began to meet some Japanese people, Japanese professors visited my department, or Shirley's friends from Japan at her shop, that I thought that these people were just like me. They were caught up in the war, they couldn't do any more that I could; I couldn't not go either. I think they had been… made into devils… They had been dehumanized to the point where they were just sort of like animals.
Q: What do you think is your most haunting or lingering memory about the war?

Mr. Lewis: Actually let me put it in other terms… I had a good time during the war. I'm lucky that I wasn't injured in any way, lucky that I wasn't killed. When I got home I was lavished with all kinds of benefits, first of all the state of Massachusetts gave me a $300 bonus and the federal government gave me the GI Bill, sent me back to graduate school, paid me a stipend for my wife and soon for a child, bought my books, paid my tuition. It was a tremendous deal; people looked upon you not as heroic, but you were somebody special who had been in the military… and unlike after the Vietnam War, you were really somebody, and people back home were always supportive, enthusiastic, and helpful. The women in Cochituate had knitted me a blue sweater, which I never wore because I went to the Pacific in the heat, not to some cold place, but it was very thoughtful of them… So it was a great feeling. When I say I enjoyed the war I mean I learned a lot, I grew up a little, I had wonderful experiences, I met wonderful people, and came out okay.
Q: So maybe you don't have a particular haunting or lingering memory, but what would you say is your best memory of being overseas? If you had a good experience over there, what would you say was the quintessence of that experience?

Mr. Lewis: Well, I could say swimming in the Pacific Ocean… I visited several islands before I got to Okinawa… with palm trees and sandy beaches and all of that. You could walk out into the ocean even though in school they had told us about all these terrible poisonous snakes and poisonous spiny fish that were going to kill you. Hundreds of brilliant fish would swim around your feet, just like an aquarium, and the sand and the palm trees… That was a pleasant experience.
Q: Did this fit in with the romance aspect of the war?

Mr. Lewis: I think it did. As I look back on it, particularly visiting places that nobody had ever been before… I had never heard of Okinawa, I mean I didn't even know the place existed… I was lucky to spend a lot of time in the United States… I had experiences that I considered to be unique. I was part of a national wartime movement, so I felt I did my duty, and people made me feel good at the end of the war. The government made you feel good, the people in Wayland made you feel good. That was a good experience. I don't cite any particular event.
Q: Have you maintained contact with anyone from your unit?

Mr. Lewis: I did for a number of years. For example, I knew a Boston policeman who was a boatswain's mate, he was sort of like military police in the Navy. I got to know two or three people from my unit who were from the Boston area, and after the war I visited him and his family… My wife and I met two or three couples in California, went to the beach, picnicked with, we kept in touch with them for a number of years. As a matter of fact, within the last five or ten years, I've heard from two or three people in my unit.
Q: Do you think you have a special bond with them? When you talk with them, did you recall what you went through together?

Mr. Lewis: Not the way I think some units do. There were some groups, particularly men who were aboard ship, that stuck together… But my unit drew men from all over the country, unlike many units which all came from one place or another. So I'd say that I've been a very modest veterans type, mixing with old pals.
Q: During the war, did you lose any friends or family or anything like that? What was the most painful loss?

Mr. Lewis: Wayland lost six or seven men, one of whom I knew in particular. He was about a year or two older that I was and interestingly enough he was a 4F… because he had ear infections and maybe had bad hearing… but he was declared unsuitable for duty. But when the war soured a little after the invasion of France, and it didn't look like we were going to get to Germany as fast as Eisenhower had thought, this guy was drafted, and he was a very feminine sort of person… he was an art student and the Museum of Fine Arts when he was hauled off to the war, and he was given very little training, and sent to Europe in the fall of 1944, thrown into the Battle of the Bulge, and killed. And it seemed to me such a shame, so was anybody getting killed in the war, but this guy really was not a soldier, I can't visualize him with a gun! That really impacted me… but nobody really close in my family…
Q: When you got home, what sort of welcoming events did you participate in?

Mr. Lewis: Well I didn't participate in many big parades. I saw a lot of those in the movies, going down Broadway with ticket tape coming down and stuff like that. I don't remember any big event where everybody was all lined up and the mayor said how grateful we are… I think everybody was glad to get home. We were all glad to go, and couldn't wait, but we were glad to be back.
Q: What did you feel seeing all your friends and family again?

Mr. Lewis: Oh, terrific. I couldn't get enough… I came home on an aircraft carrier across the Pacific, which was quite an experience, and came to Seattle… We took a train from there to Boston. It took about four or five days. On this train of course were maybe 800 to 1000 men, and they cooked in baggage cars, big pots of beans and things like that… Anyway, we got to Boston and they kept us in the building for maybe 48 hours while they were going through all the discharging activities. Oh, I couldn't wait to get out of the place! I knew my family, my wife was standing somewhere waiting for me.
Q: Were you aware at any time of the Japanese-American Internment?

Mr. Lewis: No. I don't believe so.
Q: So when did you find out about that, or when did you realize that was happening?

Mr. Lewis: Right after the war, activists who were concerned about human rights were quick to get publicity out about activities like that. In retrospect, I think that it was certainly a poor idea. I think that the threat was minimal. I just couldn't visualize American citizens, even those who had been born in Japan, as being a real threat to the country. But I remember in the early 1940's when the big fear in Massachusetts was U-boats off the shore, and dropping saboteurs and stuff like that, some of which was true. And even this far inland in Wayland we had black curtains over the windows, so that the U-boats wouldn't see us, or the Nazi planes wouldn't see us… The headlights of your cars had tape over all but a little slit… In retrospect, the Internment, and the fact that they didn't do it for every Japanese… The Japanese had a whole army division, soldiers who fought in Italy! They've got a famous name, endless TV programs about them… So it was a strange thing, particularly if we had known that in Germany they were hoarding people into concentration camps.
Q: So paranoia was in the air?

Mr. Lewis: I think it was bad about Germany as it had been in World War One, they were the bad guys then, the Kaiser, the bloodthirsty Huns…
Q: What were your reactions to the German atrocities towards the Jews?

Mr. Lewis: Terrible, terrible, awful. I can't believe doing that to another person, or a group of people.
Q: Were those images in your mind while you were overseas?

Mr. Lewis: No… I knew virtually nothing about it.
Q: How did you view FDR's leadership during the war?

Mr. Lewis: Well I always thought of it as being tremendous. I had no idea that he was a paralyzed person. That was kept completely hidden from the public. But it seemed to me that he and the big guys, Churchill, and even Stalin, and whoever else was involved were all global heroes.
Q: Of what you remember, how did his leadership during the war compare to his leadership during the Depression?

Mr. Lewis: Well, I actually was quite a Depression expert. Even though I didn't look at it as an adult, I thought that the New Deal and his leadership turned the country around. I was a great enthusiast for all of his programs, particularly the public works programs. My favorite was the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps… I even wore CCC clothing when they sent me to Rhode Island in the Navy… It was so cold that they issued me old CCC uniforms, the forest green color… They were beautiful…

Q: Were you struck that the U.S. was able to go into war so soon after the Depression?

Mr. Lewis: Absolutely amazed. We could turn out 11,000 tanks a week or whatever it was… By the time '43 and '44 rolled around we were launching a merchant ship every six hours… I don't know where we found the stuff to do it… Even the Russians were constantly building… I was amazed.
Q: Clearly it's a tribute to FDR.

Mr. Lewis: He definitely is a key figure in my memory.
Q: When he died, how did you feel?

Mr. Lewis: I was surprised, because he appeared to me, what little contact I had, like a healthy older man. I knew nothing about his inability to walk. And he was pretty smart… I was quite surprised. I had no idea that he was ill in any way at all. I'd never heard of Harry Truman!
Q: So you were shocked when he died?

Mr. Lewis: Oh yes. I was on my way to Okinawa when he died. I was aboard ship.
Q: Did other people generally have the same reaction?

Mr. Lewis: Yes. Everyone in my unit.
Q: When Truman took over, what did you think of his leadership?

Mr. Lewis: Initially, I thought he was inexperienced… I [didn't think that he] could take on the job, and particularly in the light of Roosevelt's dominating background.
Q: So when Truman decided to drop the atomic bombs, what did you think of that decision?

Mr. Lewis: Good idea. I definitely supported it.
Q: Why?

Mr. Lewis: I've thought a lot about this over the years. First of all, it ended the war, and I was within months of running up that beach… on Japan. By that time I knew a little bit more about how to get killed in the war, so I was anxious… It took two or three days until the second bomb, and then we hear that Japan is asking to arrange a surrender… I really have mixed emotions, because I think killing 100,000 people in one minute was not a very humanistic thing to do…
Q: But, in retrospect, you think it was a good measure to take?

Mr. Lewis: Yes, I do.
Q: When the war ended, did you anticipate future wars, or did you think that countries would figure out other means to solve conflicts between them?

Mr. Lewis: I figured that this was the war to end all wars… We were so powerful by then, we had beaten everybody. On top of everything, Europe lay in ruins, Japan lay in ruins, Russia lay in ruins, all the competitors… So I welcomed the United Nations, which came very quickly… They were organizing the UN, and pretty soon they had a headquarters and all the superstructure that went with it. So, I was very optimistic, and I didn't visualize little problems that might prop up like the Korean conflict so quickly… I was in the Navy reserve after the war, a lot of us stayed in the Navy in a reserve status… We thought it would build up our skills and we'd have a group ready to go in case another war broke out, but I didn't really think there would be… I didn't anticipate anything like that.
Q: What would say are the greatest lessons that you learned during WW2?

Mr. Lewis: How to take care of myself… What a country can do if it sets its mind to accomplish… I would liken it to sending a man to the moon, as one of the great achievements. For this country, in 1941… to have put together not only this great war machine, but to have the country behind it 100%… and to get people enthusiastic… Everybody pitched in, it was really incredible spirit. I think that's why people my age can't understand why we can't do it again, why we can't get the country behind some of the big problems we have. We have an energy problem, why can't we get together? Build the dams or whatever we've got to do, we've got all the know how. Why do we fritter away at political backbiting, we all ought to unite behind a great program. I think JFK, I had always hoped, would do this, come to the Presidency like Roosevelt and stir the country, as he did in his inaugural address… Ask not what your country can do for you… I think those of us who had been through the Depression and the Roosevelt era thought this guy was going to get us back on track… Really disillusioned.
Q: So as you look at today's generation of younger Americans, what do you think of them? How are we different or similar?

Mr. Lewis: Well I don't think there's a feeling of the common good… I don't think that people, not necessarily young people, but older people, think in terms of what can we do for one another, how can we forget some of the differences among us and unite, get behind some good ideas for improving society. Then we say, "What is a good idea? Why is your idea better than my idea?" Establishing what is a common goal is difficult… Why can't we get together and do something everybody can agree on? We don't seem to have a national pride and momentum… Not being nationalistic, but having a common idea of a better life and sharing more among people.
Q: So if you were to give some advise to this generation do you think this would be a part of it, to try to restore some national unity?

Mr. Lewis: I thought that he peace corps, when it was initiated, was a wonderful idea, because it younger people particularly some goal in mind… that they could go do something in another country for another people that they don't have in the United States. That to my mind was the most dramatic part of the Kennedy era, before we got mixed up in the Vietnam War. We seem to be building up all these little special interest groups, everybody has a special interest and they focus on that… We don't seem to have an umbrella concern… We don't seem to have a national program that everybody can agree on… Individual young people all seem to be ready and willing to do something, but they don't have any leadership that's steering them into not necessarily public service, but thinking more about other people.
Q: So you think the world in the time of WW2 was stronger in this way?

Mr. Lewis: Oh, absolutely. It was remarkable how smarter people than me realized the threat… I don't think I ever realized the threat, even when you saw pictures of Germany conquering France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Italy, and so on. But you never lost sight of the fact that a common front against that could be developed quickly and effectively.


Mr. Lewis describes finding dead American soldiers. (Quicktime)

Airport Construction on Okinawa


Teacup and Map

Mr. Lewis' Honorable Discharge Card

Mr. Lewis's Draft Card

Listing Aircraft Carrier

Mr. Lewis (L) with Rising Sun Flag

Navy ID
Carpenter's Mate 3rd Class Card

Tent on Okinawa

Destroyed US Tank on Okinawa