Why do most rural towns send so many of their children off to fight? Is it a chance to escape and see the world? Or is it a real sense of duty to country and love of family? Both were the mindset of James Daniel Lewis who hailed from Taylor’s Valley, Virginia, nestled at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
James was born a leader; kind, compassionate and hard-working. His parents, Reverend and Mrs. Solomon E. Lewis, raised James and his eleven siblings in a Christian household where love and respect of family and country were prevalent. James graduated from Damascus High School in 1938 and continued his education at the Abingdon Industrial School. After graduation, James began working for the Norfolk and Western Railway in Warrensville, North Carolina. During this time, James joined the U. S. Navy Reserves and continued his obligations at home, such as serving as Superintendent of his Sunday School.
In August of 1943, James and the rest of Company 162 finished training at the U. S. Naval Training Station in Sampson, New York. He became a Pharmacist Mate, 3rd Class, which fit his caring personality, and was stationed aboard LST – 314.
As talk of an Allied invasion grew, James and the crew believed there was something bigger brewing. In the early morning of June 6, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower unleashed the largest amphibious invasion in world history upon the coast of Normandy, France – Operation Overlord. LST – 314 was called for duty and waited anxiously in the English Channel if the Germans decided to commission an aerial attack. Much to everyone’s relief, one never came but the assault was not yet finished.
A short while after 2AM on June 9, a German E-boat attacked the convoy of four LSTs and fired a torpedo into his ship’s engine room on the portside and blew up one of the engines. The blast devastated the ship, spewing fire from every side and eventually caused LST – 314 to sink in the freezing water. Many of the men were never seen again. Around 350 troops were on board and only 50 survived. James would not be one of the lucky ones, as he was down in the infirmary caring for wounded soldiers at the time of the blast.
His mother and father received word on July 2 that their son was missing in action. Twenty gruelingly long days later, they received a letter from the Lieutenant Commander of the ship, notifying them that “while there is a very remote possibility that James may yet be found, I must tell you, with great sorrow, that the circumstances are most unfavorable.” With that final blow, the family would never be the same.
Even though James’ body was never recovered, all took comfort in knowing that while the terrible ordeal was taking place, James was caring for the well-being of others, just as he did back home.
I would like to thank John Forester and Linda Forester McMurray for sending me the information on her uncle. He was a true American hero and his name will forever be remembered with other brave men and women on the glass and stone walls in the Shrine of Memory.