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An African American Soldier: A Family Legacy

Four Generations of Military all Firstborns:

We all just fell into rank when it was our time.
What it all has meant, I don’t know?
Only future generations can judge us.

We Lewis Soldiers are just regular blue collared folks, African American Soldiers, yet, the descendent’s of Slaves. The main lesson I have learned, was we just did “Our Part”. We served our country.

African American Soldiers

African American Soldier WW2My Grandfather, James E. Lewis Sr., was born in 1918, he didn’t have many examples of being a father or husband. He was a man’s man and he was etched into our hearts like the fable John Henry.  He walked the walk, was a man of few words, he was the finest example of how life should be lived, including being a Soldier.

For all his life his priority was for his children not to be without love and opportunity.

In his heart, there was a better life than staying in Midway, Alabama. In 1942 James E. Sr, got drafted. His own father ran off when he was a little boy and his two older brothers were gone making a life for themselves.  Having a only a few influences on his life, he had a to make a lot of decisions. J.E,Sr  had to navigate very early, how to take care of his mother and his sisters and make decisions as the man of the house.  That was life in a close nit, rural community in the 30’s.  That is where his faith in the lord came in, that faith would sustain him throughout life till 2009 when he was called home to be with Jesus.

Segregated Army

Granddaddy was in the segregated U.S. Army, Colored Troop.

He was with the 470th Amphibious Truck Company. Arriving in Normandy the day after the Great Invasion. He could still see the blood stained beach years later. He used to tell me of his travels on The Great English Channel. There were times after the War he spent in France before and after, where a few of his pictures were taken. He brought coins back from each country he visited along the way to get back home like, Belgium. I can hear his southern laugh as he would tell stories about the English girls. Him lying on the beach, his first time being able to sit and relax on the shores, watching “them pretty English girls” swim. The English, French and Belgiums loved the Colored Troops, he remembered how well they looked after the black soldiers who were so far away from home, equally and with respect. He got a taste of what freedom for a Colored man in Europe was like. After the War, he wanted that freedom at home.

I think they all had hoped there would be some change when they got back to the States.  Being told by the white command officers, they made sure black soldiers got reminded they were “just Negroes”. Granddaddy knew that after the war, he would be faced with the same old rigors of life in the South, being part of Jim Crow with the ‘Colored Only’ signs, and the  prospect of just being a lolly sharecropper.  When he  looked at the World through War, he imagined all the possibilities life had to offer.  As a newlywed him and his War Bride from down Home, made their lives a part of ‘The Great Migration’, moving where the jobs were, up North.

Going to War opened up a lot of opportunities for him, he took every known advantage of them as they came. Oh, how they tried to grind him down, but he stood and he rose above it all. Uncle Sam told him he had to go fight! In return for J.E, fighting for this country like so many before him, its was his chance to prove to his country why he should be free in ALL ways. The Army meant a lot to Granddaddy, our lives were always to be of service in all capacities. Back then, your name and word meant something, and with his discharge papers in hand, it took him wherever he wanted to go, he made sure his living through that War was not in vain.

Two Tours in Vietnam

My Dad in Vietnam
My Dad in VietnamMy Dad in Vietnam

In 1947 James Sr.’s Firstborn and namesake, James E. Lewis, Jr. was born. James E. Lewis completed two tours in Vietnam. 28 years of service in the Marine Corps as CSGM.

My Dad says when he arrived in DaNang, Vietnam at age 22, that’s when he got his wake up call. It was Life or Death. They sent him to the front with the Grunts and Infantry, he was a cook. Commander asked him what his MOS was?(military occupational service, Job!) He said “Cook Sir”!, Well, your a Marine first! When we get shot at, you get shot at, when we need to eat, you’ll cook. Eventually he was sent to the rear and worked in the largest Bakery in Vietnam at that time. His Proudest moment is when he made Drill Segeant at Parris Island. He put 7 Platoons in 11 weeks through the Marine Corps, that was in 1975-1977. He was just 29 then.

How proud I felt as the daughter of this man. I remember the look on J.E.Sr’s face also when we came to visit one of his graduating classes. It was of Proud. Having all girls, Did he think about one of us going in the military? At one point in my career he questioned if I was up to task? I think it’s clear now that I could “Carry on” like the rest of the men in this family.

Just like a generation before him, he kept his story to himself. Not acknowledging the importance of the work he’d done, soldiers like him saw it as an honor to do their Job. There’s three groups of people in the military you don’t mess with. That’s the Cooks, Supply, and Finance! You need those folks to survive. They are friends you make, because you want to eat, you need stuff and you want your money. All four of us were cooks or supply.

CSGM Lewis like the rest of his generation are by and large, still quiet about their tours, and service but slowly now they begin to talk about their experiences.

My Time in the Army

My Army Days
My Army Days

In 1968 his firstborn arrived. Me, True , the writer. I was called a “Clinton baby”, meaning: Serving the during the Clinton years. President Clinton had kept us out of war.  Being a girl,  the resistance would come strong from family and colleagues. My parents made me strong, but the Army built me into ‘Army strong’. My mind was made up, I could do anything the guy next to me  was doing and I proved it, time and time again. When I signed my name on the dotted line, I knew what it all entailed. It took a lot of preparation.

I’ve been all over the World in a span of 7 years. Most memorable was my intense tour in Korea. That was my Proudest Time. That’s why it’s called a short tour in the Army. You can only take the rigors of the job for a year. Everyday, no matter if it was 2:00am on a saturday night in the NCO club, or a Tuesday at 0 Dark Thirty. Your life was on call for the rest of the World, your body was being used as a first line of defense. With the DMZ and North Korea always unstable that was your goal. Your priority was to be ready to defend at all costs. Just imagine your Life being the first line of defense until the rest of the World can get there to do something about it. So thru all the working, laughing and such, that was your job for one year. All my mind had to do, 24hours a day, without thinking, was to be ready to defend.

 My Son the Soldier

My son the soldier
My son the soldier

In 1985 my Firstborn child, a Son, Edward J. L. Kunkel was born. He has that torch now, carrying it ever so brightly with 3 tours of Duty. He is now one of 66,000 serving in the mountainous, cold hills of Afghanistan. I’m waiting to  interview him about his career. What has it meant to him these past few years with all his experiences? How does he feel carrying on the torch in this family? What burden if any,has that meant to him? I’ll be waiting on him to have a child one day. I wonder if I’ll be able to see his first child carrying on the tradition whether girl or boy to keep the Lewis Tradition going?

Father’s Day in 2007 was one of the Proudest moments collectively when we all realized with Eddie with us, all grown up and serving,that we had made up 4 Generations of Lewis’s all Firstborns and we all took that now “famous” photo by all our family members. I think as the digital cameras were flashing we realized what we were standing for? What our place in this family was and what meaning it had for us all.

 

Four Generations of Military
Four Generations of Military

Eddie’s firstborn, whether they join the Military or not, they will be able to look back at a Full Military Legacy with much Pride. This is our contribution we want to leave behind for our future generations.

I’m True Lewis
Full-Time Wife, Army Mom and Grandma, I have the pleasure of researching my Family History as our Family Historian. I have a blog where I tell short stories about my family and the work I’ve done as Notes To Myself that I share with you. I can be found at www.mytrueroots.blogspot.com

 

2 thoughts on “An African American Soldier: A Family Legacy

  • 25th January 2013 at 12:47 am
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    Girl proud of you and your family good article

    Bob Calhoun disable combat Vietnam Veteran 1964-1966

    Reply
  • 11th November 2013 at 4:28 pm
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    Very proud of you and family True. Thank you

    Reply

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