By Dawn M. Aerts
Iron County Today
NEW HARMONY–When Veteran’s Day arrives, U.S. Naval Capt. Ron Lewis (retired) will be standing tall and resolute for the ceremony. According to Lewis, he hasn’t missed one for many years as This Day is part of a country’s ‘promise’ to honor, remember, and repatriate Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) in a mission, he said, continues today.
Lewis, who can tell you detailed stories about his 28-year-military career as a helicopter Navy pilot trained and deployed in the ‘60s, says that the POW/MIA issue is a personal one that he now honors through public outreach, at a mix of community presentations and by reminding Americans and it’s young people of one singular principle: “Let no American be abandoned on the battlefields of War; Let no American POW/MIA be counted among the ‘forgotten ones’ in history.”
It was on July 4, 2007, as Lewis was honored to march down main street at an annual parade that his journey to look back began. It was that year that Lewis pulled out his “cruise book” from the USS Ranger (1965), and took time to remember the sacrifice of 13 shipmates who he says, paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“Some of these (men) had been missing for over 41 years,” said Lewis from his quiet home in New Harmony. “Their families have (had) no burial site to visit, no place to say goodbye to their son, or husband or father. I (was able to) come home to my family and to watch my children grow and play.”
It’s that message: 88,000 unaccounted for, the two local airmen who went missing, and the thousands of families who still wait to find or receive their loved one (back home) that keeps Lewis motivated to remember. For him, the numbers of missing and unaccounted for are easy to recall — 78,000 in WWII, 1,600 (Vietnam); 120 from the Cold War; 4 still missing in Iraq.
While Lewis is proud of his helicopter and flight missions, deployments and rescues off the coast of Vietnam, it is the memory of all America’s (missing) heroes that he stands for. In more recent years, Lewis has traveled to dozens of communities to speak on the POW-MIA issue.
He is optimistic about the proactive effort to find, retrieve, test and verify remains and how DNA-technology stands at the forefront of military-based research and examination.
“The search, retrieval and (DNA) verification process has really accelerated in the last few years,” explained Lewis. “In 2015 the military began to both ask for and collect (DNA) samples from families of those (missing or unidentified) servicemen and women.” Unfortunately, he points out that time is not on our side as remains will continue to deteriorate or become unsuitable for analysis.
“When I first retired in 1991, I hung my uniform up a closet and didn’t join any particular Veteran’s organization,” Lewis said. But all that changed in 2007 with his decision to create a public memorial to honor America’s missing. “I decided that (it was important) to provide (people) with meaningful and current information.”
In Iron County, Lewis continues his pledge and promise. Over the past 10 years his presentation has been featured at community gatherings and at high schools, at Veteran’s organizations and for families. “I enjoy talking to our young people about these issues — they want to hear the War stories, but mostly I hope they go home to their parents (and families) and tell them about this issue.”
The POW/MIA flags fly high at the entrance to the Lewis home and not a day goes by that Lewis doesn’t still ponder the lives and sacrifice made by a handful of USS Ranger shipmates who went missing back in 1966.
“I belong to the American Legion, and help with funerals to honor all of our servicemen and women,” said Lewis of his promise to the POW/MIA effort, “No veteran should go to a military resting place without honoring their sacrifice to this country. I hope to keep that promise alive.”
Caption: ‘The Promise to Bring Home and Honor’ all POW and MIA servicemen is a personal and national promise for former Captain Ron Lewis, USN, (retired) who is encouraged by the work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency who now utilizes highly specialized DNA lab process that can accurately identify the recovery of forensic remains. Lewis’s talk on the POW/MIA issue will be featured at Panguitch Senior High School on Nov. 10.