Leland 'Bud' Lewis: The best of the Greatest Generation
Seventy-five years have elapsed since the fighting ended. On Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japanese envoys offered their nation's unconditional surrender. The most destructive war in history was at an end.
And, Portlander Leland "Bud" Lewis, now 100, was part of the great fight.
Today, many already have forgotten the sacrifices made by the men and women who struggled to defeat fascism. They grew up during the Great Depression and went off to war with no guarantee of survival or a better life upon their return.
They rebuilt devastated nations and created the greatest economy in history. In 1945, more than half of the world's manufacturing was centered in the United States. Yet, the largesse has been taken for granted by succeeding generations of Americans.
Not everyone has forgotten. One who remembers is one who was there. His sacrifices and contributions make him one of the best of that Greatest Generation.
In 1920 when Lewis was born near Mayton, Alberta, the Great Depression was still nine years off. But that did not mean times were good. When he was 3, Lewis' family moved back to the United States to overcome hardship. They ran out of money in Portland and couldn't continue any farther.
Lewis quickly grew; by age 16 he was already 6 feet 3 inches tall. Easily passing for 18, in 1936 he joined the military.
"It was the money, not patriotism," he admitted.
As an enlisted man in the 186th Regiment of the 41st Infantry ("Sunset") Division, he earned a whopping $1 per each drill conducted at the old Armory on Northwest 10th Avenue and Couch Street.
As war loomed, the 41st prepared. By the time of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, the Sunset boys were ready to go. In early 1942 the division was deployed along the Washington and Oregon coasts. The perceived threat of invasion by Japanese forces was quite real. Based at Camp Clatsop (today, Rilea), the division patrolled the Oregon beaches.
In April 1942, Lewis' division departed San Francisco for the southwest Pacific aboard the converted passenger liner SS Matsonia. Disembarking in Melbourne, Australia, on May 13, 1942, the regiment then trained for jungle warfare near Rockhampton. As America's first army division to be sent overseas in harm's way, they saw combat on New Guinea. Lewis fought with his division on Buna, Biak, Hollandia and at Sanananda.
War can be indiscriminate. Lewis missed being seriously wounded by mere inches and seconds. Once, while speeding in a jeep along a rough jungle road, he was passed over by a Japanese sniper. He learned this later upon his return trip when he encountered U.S. troops firing on the enemy soldier who'd tied himself into the top of a tree.
"We think that he was aiming for an officer, not me, a sergeant … but the boys got him," Lewis said.
In another instance, Lewis witnessed a twin-engine American B-25 bomber fly low across his compound intending to drop materiel to the troops. Though the men were ordered not to fire on the friendly aircraft, some did so, anyway. Hit, the B-25 erupted in flames as it crashed into the ground, killing the entire aircrew. Lewis feels that accidents, friendly fire and disease may have caused more American casualties than is generally known.
It was disease that ultimately "got" Lewis. While on Biak, his lingering case of malaria (and later, hepatitis) caught up with him. He was treated first at a field hospital on Owi Island and then aboard the new hospital ship, the USS Comfort.
"It was spectacular, so white and clean," he recalled. "They even had shakes and malts … as many as you wanted. But because of my condition, I couldn't eat a single one!" After further treatment in Milne Bay, he was ordered home.
Back in Oregon, Lewis immediately rekindled a romance with the love of his life, Janet Spencer. Married on Oct. 13, 1945, they became parents to Diane and Doug, who they raised in their Southwest Portland home. Janet died in 2013, and Bud, who celebrated his 100th birthday this past summer, lives there still.
Daughter Diane says of Lewis: "I could not have a better father. He provided a great foundation for my brother and me and set a wonderful example for us. The lessons he taught us, especially in how to treat others, will stay with me forever.
"As a family we always shared dad with the larger community. Mom said that she should have known this when, at their wedding, he waved to people as they walked down the aisle. To say that he is a people person is an understatement. He truly cares for them."
Before he and the Sunset Division left for Australia and after he'd graduated from Benson High, Lewis was appointed to the Portland Police Bureau as a patrol officer. "This changed my life for the better," he said.
His work with the PPB strengthened his inclination toward treating people with kindness and respect. This, Lewis found, worked wonders when handling difficult situations. A word of understanding and a nonaggressive approach smoothed over many disagreements. He eschewed using his firearm, feeling that there were better ways to solve problems.
Thus, his .38 police special remained holstered. "If you show interest in, respect for and kindness toward people, it will always be the right thing to do," Lewis said.
He improved his skills as well as his education by earning an associate's degree at Portland Community College. There Lewis learned to first appreciate, and then to love, poetry.
Once a soldier …
Lewis' military service did not end with World War II. Starting in 1948 and for the next 30 years, he was an officer in the Army Reserve, first with a military police battalion and later civil affairs. His love for the armed forces and those who serve in them has never wavered. He retired from the Reserve as a full colonel.
In later years Lewis served as president of his beloved 41st Infantry Division Association and helped to organize several reunions in Portland. Also, he helped to create the 41st Division/Brigade's military museum located at Camp Withycombe by providing historical information.
Knowing that the "Sunset Highway" — U.S. Highway 26 — which travels west from Portland to the Oregon Coast, was named after the 41st Division fills him with pride. Lewis was honored to be selected as a keynote speaker at its dedication ceremony by Brigade Adjutant General Fred Reese.
It wasn't long before his people skills and imposing presence made Lewis perfect for a job working solo security at the hugely popular wrestling matches that were held in the old Portland Armory.
Many of the famous regional athletes of the day faced off in these Friday night events, including the legendary Shag Thomas. Uniformed as a PPB member and with full authority, Lewis' intervened in the spontaneous ringside brawls that broke out among the excited fans to keep the peace.
The PPB realized what it had in Lewis. He was reassigned from walking a beat to the position of director of the school Safety Education Unit. "I worked with four other fine officers," he recalled. His personality and urge to assist youngsters quickly made him and his team hugely popular. Before long they had instructed hundreds of "good kids."
The subjects taught to the eager kids ranged from crosswalk safety, pedestrian dos and don'ts, bike safety techniques and even the operation of a motor vehicle. Lewis established a private "driving school." Dozens of Portland youths still remember "Sergeant Lewis" patiently but firmly teaching them how to drive and instructing them on the rules of the road.
In 1963, all of this led to Lewis' most important and rewarding assignment as the commander of the PPB's high-profile Sunshine Division. Since the mid-1920s the Sunshine Division has provided food and clothing to Portlanders on an emergency basis. The theory was that by meeting basic human requirements, crime could be thwarted. Lewis was selected for this post because of his integrity and sharp skills in dealing with the public.
Under his direction, the Sunshine Division continued as a huge asset for the city. Lewis hired talented assistants, dealt with donors and suppliers and established new ways to distribute items to those in dire need. Lewis' success in creating such a work force is a credit to both his wisdom and management skills.
To this day, Lewis tirelessly works to promote and support the Sunshine Division. He has become its public face. Leading up to his 100th birthday in August, he navigated his walker more than 100 laps around the Duniway Park track to focus attention on and raise contributions for the Sunshine Division. Donations are still coming in, but to date they are nearing $150,000.
After his retirement from the PPB in 1973, he wasn't idle for long. Lewis, then 53, took a position with ESCO as its security chief. In classic fashion, he immediately befriended management and the work force alike.
As he tells it, when the first strike in company history began in 1974, his personal relationship with both management and workers helped to bring about an amicable resolution of the strikers' demands.
Lewis worked in this job for nine rewarding years. He feels that he has "never had an experience that was not a worthwhile endeavor."
The big MAC
One of Lewis' loves is the Multnomah Athletic Club, the MAC. As a member since 1977, he has become a legend and is fondly known as the "Mayor of the MAC." He has a warm, winning personal style and knows everyone's first names. Lewis "holds court" by attracting other members who never fail to stop by his table to say hello and to receive one of his crushing handshakes.
Besides his soaring popularity, he is a legendary athlete, setting many club records in the annual men's decathlon. From 1969 to 1975, his overall score was the highest of all male entrants. The Bud Lewis Award is presented annually to an outstanding male athlete.
Swimming laps or exercising is a longstanding daily ritual. "You just have to keep moving," he advised.
The Lincoln High water polo teams have adopted Lewis as their unofficial mascot. He seldom misses one of their matches.
Also at the MAC, he has helped with an annual blood drive that now bears his name. On his 100th birthday in August, a drive-by celebration was conducted so anyone who wished to do so was able to personally greet the hero.
Memories of war
In World War II, a popular souvenir brought home by allied servicemen was the silk national flag (Yosegaki Hinomaru), carried as a talisman by Japanese troops. Inscribed by relatives and well-wishers, these flags were sacred items for the families who made them for their sons going to war.
Lewis agreed that flags and other such items should be returned. Accordingly, Lewis has assisted the Obon Society in efforts to repatriate as many artifacts as possible. As Lewis puts it, "You can't hold bad feelings forever.
In 2015 this resulted in him being featured on the "CBS Sunday Morning" program.
His friends and family hold him in high regard.
"We have lived next door to Bud and his family for 46 years. I can think of no finer neighbors than they have been. Our outdoor decks are near one another and we can clearly hear Bud's infectious laugh. It rings throughout the neighborhood. Everyone just loves him," Carolyn Raz said.
Bud Lewis was, is and always will be a one-in-a-million individual. To know him is to like him … everyone agrees on that. As a friend, civic leader, instructor, athlete, humanitarian and role model, there is none better.
To use the ultimate military compliment: He's the real deal.
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