My Dad went away at an early age to fight for this country, during World War II. The picture shows him at the age of 17. He served most of his time on the USS South Dakota, a battleship.
He was contacted by the USS South Dakota Association and sent a package sometime in the late 70s and was ask to deliver it and present it at a ceremony being held at the Battleship Texas, next to the San Jacinto Monument near Houston. Kenny and I accompanied him to that dedication one Saturday morning. We left Smithwick early, very early, so we could arrive there by the appointed time.
It really wasn’t much of a ceremony, it was more like meeting a couple of officials from the ship and handing over the package so they could display them. It was almost like UPS delivering a package kind of deal. But we were invited to tour around and that gave Cec a chance to re-live life in the Navy. He talked to us in more detail than ever before, while there and on the trip home.
I think the sojourn that day lit a fire in him. What the folks from the USS South Dakota may not have realized, they had sent that package to a sailor that had been kicked out of the Navy and given a dishonorable discharge.
We had heard about this throughout the years, but didn’t know the details: At the end of the war many sailors and soldiers were targeted by the upper brass and kicked out as a way to keep from extending benefits. I’m not sure what the numbers were or whether this claim is really factual or not. In the case of Cecil Lewis he had been kicked out for fighting. Most people in his shoes were fairly powerless against the Military and the Federal Government.
After the trip that day he decided to make things right between him and the Navy. With the help of Layton (Jim) Cox , who was the Veterans Administration liaison for Burnet County at the time, they wrote letters and over a period of time got the dishonorable discharge removed and his full VA Benefits in place for the remainder of his life.
He didn’t seem bitter over the ordeal, but I wouldn’t have blamed him if he was. He spent a lot of time in VA Hospitals after that and actually died at the one in San Antonio.
So it seems that the way Veterans are being treated now, is no new thing.
One thought on “Cecil Lewis And The Navy”
Similar to Cecil going away to the Navy when he was 17, I went to the Army at that age in 1969. I didn’t know anyone who was given a dishonorable discharge, but served with a couple of guys who got “less than honorable” releases from service. One was a heroin addict, Oscar, from Washington, D.C. I’ve no idea whether or if he ever received any VA benefits. If they got him through degoxification, so much the better for all concerned. Another was Tim, a pothead from Los Angeles with whom I served in Alabama after each of us returned from Vietnam. Even when I was right around 20 I could see that he was not worth the $10 per day that the Army was paying him to serve. They let him go on a “general” discharge, though I thought they might have better issued him a “bad conduct” one. Again, I don’t know whether or not he ever received a penny of Veterans’ benefits. If he did, I’ll credit it to his having spent a year of honorable service in Vietnam in the combat engineers, but by the time he got to Alabama, the Army was better off without him.
Whether my own service was “useful” or not, I think I gave value for money. As for benefits, I got some fillings in my teeth during my first year out of uniform and a handfull of college and graduate school degrees. I’m happy to have served. It got me out of an environment that woule havfe resulted in me being stuck in a whirlpool for the rest of my life.
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