After 40 years, family able to lay their hero to rest
An Air Force bomber pilot who was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War was remembered Saturday as a passionate man who loved God, his country, his family, flying and music.
Col. James W. Lewis, who was missing in action for 40 years, was buried Saturday in Marshall, his wife’s hometown. His remains were discovered during excavations in 2003-04 and were identified using mitochondrial DNA.
Barbara Lewis, his widow, said he’d always wanted to be a pilot. She said his mother told her that as a boy, he would eat his toast into the form of an airplane.
James Lewis had led a flight of four B-57B Canberra aircraft on a mission over Xiangkhoang Province in Laos on April 7, 1965, heading into heavy clouds to drop bombs on enemy targets. The last contact came when he radioed they were heading away from the target.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, enemy fire and bad weather are thought to be contributing factors, according to the government.
James Lewis, 36, left behind a 10-year-old son and two daughters — ages 6 years and 11 months. His widow said he was a stern but devoted father, the Marshall News Messenger reported in its Sunday editions.
“He thought the sun rose and set on his children,” Barbara Lewis said. “He had great dreams for the three of them. He would be proud of you today.”
Although few people in Marshall knew James Lewis, many strangers came to pay their respects at the funeral service and the burial.
“You know he’s my hero, and I think he must be your hero, too,” Barbara Lewis said.