Wounded In Two Wars: WW II EUROPE and KOREA

Harold Elton Lewis was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1917. He grew up in San Antonio and graduated from High School there at age 17. In about 1936 he went to Houston and got a job with “Grand Prize,” a brewing company owned by Howard Hughes. After four years employment there the draft was instituted and, facing certain call-up anyway, he enlisted in the 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard just as it was about to be mobilized.

The division was activated at Camp Bowie near Brownwood, Texas on November 25, 1940. After training there and participating in maneuvers in Louisiana, the division was moved to Camp Blanding, Florida in February 1942. Hal Lewis was a Sergeant in the division’s 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion when he was selected for Officer Candidate School in June 1942.

Hal graduated from OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia and was commissioned as an Infantry 2nd Lieutenant in September 1942. He remained at Fort Benning for another six weeks to attend “Cannon School #1,” a training course for the 37mm anti-tank gun. He completed the schooling on October 16th and departed immediately for Camp Pickett, Virginia with orders to the 3rd Infantry Division. He reported in on October 19th. He had his wife with him and fully expected to have time to secure a set of family quarters nearby, buy a new set of tires for the car, and get settled in and stay for awhile in his new unit at Camp Pickett. Instead, he was informed they were all shipping out the next day. Twenty-four hours later, they were all gone.

The 3rd Infantry Division embarked and sailed for North Africa where, as a part of Operation “Torch,” they made an amphibious landing on November 8, 1942 at Port Lyautey, northeast of Casablanca. Lieutenant Harold Lewis’ initial assignment was as Motor Officer of 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry. He was with the battalion in North Africa, then in Sicily, and from there to Italy. In Italy, he was wounded at Anzio.

The amphibious landing at Anzio in January 1944 was made in a large area of flat reclaimed swampland that was ringed all around by the Alban hills. The Americans were on the low ground and from their positions in the hills, during daylight hours the Germans could adjust fire on anything that moved. The Americans remained hemmed in by Germans for the next four months. Along the line of contact, a canal was the only thing that separated the 3rd Battalion from the enemy. The only way that 1st Lieutenant Hal Lewis, now battalion S-4 (supply officer), could get rations and ammunition up to his line companies was to deliver them under cover of darkness. He carried those supplies in his jeep and trailer, moving with blackout drive lights, slowly along the canal embankment. On one night, the Germans had a tank ready from across the canal and it fired its main gun at the sound of Hal’s jeep engine. The tank round exploded on the embankment below the jeep and Hal was hit by shell fragments in both legs. He was taken back to the Battalion Aid Station where the surgeon removed most of the fragments, but; Hal refused evacuation to the hospital and returned himself to duty. The field hospital at Anzio, like everything else, was clearly visible to the German positions in the hills and, being a large installation, it was targeted often by artillery fire. There were many casualties among the Army doctors and nurses. Hal says, “Battalion supply was set up downstairs in a house in the town. I had comfortable quarters for myself in a room upstairs and my driver was really good about looking after me. Also, with a jeep, I could still do my job with very little walking and I saw no reason to let myself be hospitalized where I could do nothing.” After two days, his wounds were dressed by the Regimental Surgeon, and he never returned for treatment after that (over fifty years later Hal had to have a “knee replacement” and after the operation the surgeon presented him with yet another fragment from the tank shell that wounded him back in 1944).

Harold Lewis continued to serve in 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry as part of the 3rd Infantry Division during their time in Italy, and from there, they made the amphibious landing at Saint Tropez and subsequent operations in Southern France. After the war he was discharged into the reserves as a First Lieutenant in November 1945.

He was recalled to active duty in September 1948 and served in Company B, 41st Armored Infantry Battalion, 2nd Armored Division at Camp Hood, Texas. After the Korean War he was soon ordered there. He arrived in Korea on October 13, 1950 and was sent by train to the 1st Cavalry Division. He joined the division north of Pyongyang and was assigned as a Platoon Leader in Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. After about two weeks as platoon leader, Hal took command of the company. He was promoted to Captain in December 1950 and he remained in command of Company K until he was wounded. Hal says, “I had been Company Commander for approximately five months; but, I don’t remember the date I was wounded and I don’t remember anything else about it because I was unconscious. Later, the men told me that I had been blown out of my foxhole by the blast of a mortar shell and they had strapped me to an external litter of a medevac helicopter that flew me back to the hospital. I did not regain consciousness until I was in the hospital a day or two later, and never ever regained any memory of what had happened; but, otherwise I had only minor wounds. After about ten days I returned to duty but of course by that time someone else had been placed in command of Company K and so I was made the Assistant S-3 (Operations Officer) of 3rd Battalion.”

Captain Lewis soon after became the battalion S-3 and regiment wanted to keep him in charge of operations. When 2nd Battalion replaced them in the line, Hal stayed at the front as S-3 of the 2nd Battalion. The same thing happened when 1st Battalion was moved into the front line, Hal was put in charge of operations of that battalion.

Upon his return home after Korea, Hal’s next assignment was going to be at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and that was not to his liking. He requested and was accepted for a branch transfer to the Transportation Corps with Headquarters, 2nd Army at Fort Meade, Maryland as his first assignment. Following that, he served a four-year tour in France where he commanded a Transportation Corps boat company. He then returned to the United States for another four-year R.O.T.C. assignment at Louisiana State University.

In 1963, he retired from the Army in the grade of Lieutenant Colonel. He continued living in Baton Rouge and worked for some time in real estate. He then moved to Austin and worked in real estate with Nash, Phillips, Copus; the largest home builder in the area. After that, he went in business for himself for some years before retiring from that also.

Harold Lewis joined the Military Order of the Purple Heart since 1999 and he has been an active member of Chapter 1919 since that time, rarely missing a meeting and taking several turns each month working the Purple Heart coffee bar at the VA Outpatient Clinic. At age 89, Hal is the oldest actively working VA Volunteer at the Clinic.