WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the military career of Col. (retired) Jesse Lewis, a veteran of the Vietnam War, in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Lewis grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, the home of Naval Station Norfolk. He learned firsthand about military service from his father who served in the Navy and continued serving his country as a civilian at the naval base after concluding his time in uniform. After graduating from Old Dominion University, Lewis worked at a Norfolk YMCA. When he recognized he was about to be drafted, Lewis considered a career change.
“I had a fraternity brother who was in Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Fort Benning, Georgia and he had written me a letter and told me OCS was great. I should join the Army,” Lewis said.
He took the test and qualified for an OCS appointment.
“Of course my dad was quite proud. He’d tried to get me to go in the Navy since he’d been in the Navy, but I decided to go to the Army. After I was in Vietnam I wish I’d listened to him. He always said he’d had three hot meals and a warm place to sleep and here we were eating C-Rations in the rain,” Lewis laughed.
He attended basic training and advanced individual training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. After finishing OCS, Lewis was assigned as an executive officer to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
“I had a car so I drove from Norfolk, Virginia to San Diego and then flew to Oahu, Hawaii,” Lewis recalled. “About a month later my car arrived, so I was able to go around the island and visit all the touristy places.”
Lewis spent 18 months in Hawaii training soldiers for combat in Vietnam before he deployed there himself in 1967. In Vietnam, he served as a battalion liaison officer. During the day, he flew with the colonel to each of the units to gather information about the number of enemy wounded and killed, in addition to weapons captured. Lewis would travel by jeep or helicopter to brief division headquarters about the field operations.
Lewis miraculously remained unscathed in two instances where the helicopter he was riding in was shot down. When his aircraft was targeted the second time, he decided to rethink his plan to remain in the Army. “Officers were pulling two and three tours in Vietnam then. I felt I was fortunate at that point to not be wounded so I decided I was not going to stay in. The battalion commander was quite upset with me,” Lewis said.
After Lewis separated from the Army, he joined the Pennsylvania National Guard. When he relocated to Fort Smith to work for Dixie Products, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve. During his serving in the USAR, his assignments included commanding three different battalions and serving as Deputy Chief of Staff, Logistics for the 90th Army Reserve Command. In 1997, he retired from military service.
“Col. Lewis had a long and distinguished military career. He dedicated his life to serving his country. His memories of his time in uniform are an important part of our history as much as his own story. I am pleased to be able to collect and preserve his stories,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Lewis’ entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.