After two years of odd jobs and trying to make ends meet following his high school graduation, Lewis E. Walters enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1938. Little did Lew know that during the next eight years of his life, he would be involved in some of the most famous events in U.S. history.
Lew was born in Atlanta, Ga., in February 1919. Much of his teen years, he spent in Charleston, SC, but he ended up in Massachusetts living with his grandparents before graduating from high school in 1936. The Great Depression kept Lew from finding a decent job once he was done with school, so he decided to enlist in the military.
He went to the recruiting station in Boston to join the Marines. Unfortunately, the recruiter told Lew he was too small to join the Marines, so Lew turned his eyes to the Navy. After attending boot camp in Newport, RI, Lew’s first ship was a WWI destroyer. At the end of 1940, he boarded the USS Nevada for the first time.
According to a book published by the Ship’s Welfare Department of the USS Nevada, the Nevada was of a revolutionary naval design, not only being built with great tonnage, but with such innovations as torpedo tubes, three-rifle main battery turrets and oil-burning engines. Despite its advanced technology, the Nevada saw no action during WWI. It was very much the same when Lew boarded in 1940 as it had been when it first launched in 1914. That all changed on Dec. 7, 1941.
Lew doesn’t like to talk about Pearl Harbor, but he was onboard the Nevada while she was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese attacked. The Nevada, while taking a huge beating, was one of only a few ships that were able to fight back, despite taking a torpedo on her port side very early. Forty-one died and approximately 100 were wounded on the Nevada. After the attack was over, she was still upright, but no longer sea worthy. It took four months of repairs before the Nevada was water-borne again and able to sail to Washington to undergo extensive repairs and complete modernization.
In the meantime, Lew was transferred to the USS Kaskaskia, a high speed fleet oiler. Lew’s main duty on the Kaskaskia was helmsman. The Kaskaskia traveled with the US fleet in the Pacific Ocean. It carried fuel for both ships and planes. While on the Kaskaskia, Lew visited the Solomon Islands, the Fiji Islands and New Zealand.
Mid April 1942, during an early watch, Lew saw the glow of engines on the deck of the USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier the Kaskaskia was traveling with in the Western Pacific Ocean. What he found out later what he saw were B-25 bombers taking off for Japan. These planes were the first to drop bombs on Tokyo, proving the Japanese islands were not as protected from attack as they believed. While Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle’s raid did not do significant damage to Japan, the action was a huge morale boost and proved to provide other advantages later in the war.
It was also during Lew’s time on the Kaskaskia that he and his high school sweetheart, Meredith Atwood, were able to tie the knot. The couple got engaged by proxy: Lew’s brother gave Merry her engagement ring for Lew Christmas Eve of ’42 and the two were married October 1943 in Quincy, Mass. Merry was also in the Navy; she served Stateside in a Naval office in Washington.
Two years after Pearl Harbor, after the Japanese were thwarted at the Aleutian Islands Campaign, Lew requested and was granted a transfer back to the Nevada. One year and 12 days after Pearl Harbor, the Nevada had been put back to sea, so different in her appearance that old timers had trouble recognizing her. Lew also transferred into the engineering force, working in auxiliaries. He expected to continue with the Pacific fleet, but the Nevada sailed south, through the Panama Canal, and joined the Atlantic fleet.
After a year of acting as escort across the Atlantic, the Nevada was sent to the United Kingdom. June 6, 1944, the Nevada fired the first shot, blasting a hole in the sea wall that might have otherwise halted the Invasion of Normandy. The Nevada, Lew aboard, was a huge asset for the Allied forces against the Germans. Later, Lew and the Nevada were instrumental at Cherbourg and at the invasion of Southern France.
After that, Lew transferred back to the States and onto the USS Los Angeles, a heavy cruiser out of Pennsylvania. On the Los Angeles’ shakedown cruise day, the war ended in Europe. Lew had served almost eight years in the Navy and was considered “an old timer.” He put in for his discharge papers and was dropped off with others being discharged at Long Beach, Calif.
As a thank you, the city of Los Angeles paid for Lew and his buddies to travel first class by train from Long Beach to Boston, paying for a private car and all their meals for the whole trip. It was a great end to seven years of hard military work.
Lew was finally permanently reunited with Merry in Boston in 1946. But he wasn’t done with the Navy yet. Lew and Merry moved to Charleston where Lew worked for the Navy as a civilian, using the skills he had learned in nuclear engineering. From Charleston, Lew worked in Florida and in Tennessee.
The Walterses had friends who lived near Dowling Park and they discovered the Village during a visit. When it was time to retire, Lew and Merry bought and moved to a house near ACV, and eventually both had jobs here—Merry as a switchboard operator and Lew as a driver.
Lew is now an ACV member, happily living in the apartment he and Merry shared for a short time before her passing. He’s 95 years young and still enjoys driving people to doctor visits and getting together with other ACV veterans. ACV is a richer place because of people like Lew Walters. We’re glad he’s keeping history alive for us.