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Willie Thomas Lewis

"The Vietnam War is more than 50 years old and veterans of that conflict are aging. We need to get them to share their stories and experiences during the war with young people who know very little about it."

Rodney Whatley

Willie Thomas Lewis was born at Long Branch to Dorothea Bolling Lewis and John Lewis on January 6, 1943, according to the birth registry for Fayette County, West Virginia, and the Social Security Death Index. Other sources reference Sgt. Lewis's birth date as January 6, 1942 (date inscribed on headstone, Air Force Report of Casualty) or January 5, 1942 (application for veteran's bonus filed with West Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs).

Collated from the family's submittals to the local newspapers' society pages and obituaries, Willie Lewis's siblings were Wendell, Harry, Charlie, Jessie, Ronnie, and Donald.

Willie Lewis's entry into active duty was February 27, 1962, in Beckley, West Virginia. According to the application for a West Virginia Vietnam veteran's bonus filed with the state, Sergeant Lewis was on active duty February 27, 1962, through February 27, 1966; February 28, 1966, to February 27, 1970; and February 28, 1970, to January 5, 1972. The stop-and-start intervals likely indicate that Sgt. Lewis re-enlisted as he completed tours of duty, with the last listed as the day he passed away.

Willie Lewis married Arithea Graham in Harrison County, Mississippi, on November 12, 1962. Biloxi, in Harrison County, is home to Keesler Air Force Base. No direct reference to Sgt. Lewis's occupation in the Air Force was found, but Keesler Air Force Base has a solid reputation and history as a location for technical training. In the 1960s, after losing its electronic warfare curricula and Air Ground Operations School to other Air Force bases, Keesler's curricula focused on electronics technology and became the country's main supplier of electronics technicians. (Keesler Air Force Base, "History of Keesler Air Force Base," 11 October 2006, accessed 19 October 2019, It's possible that this was Sgt. Lewis's job description with the Air Force, if he was stationed there.

Sgt. Lewis's family followed the tradition of submitting social news of reunions, dinners, and visits to the local newspapers. Through these articles the family seems large, sociable, and being in each other's company was reason enough to travel back to Long Branch. Many of Sgt. Lewis's brothers left the area. His younger brother Donald also joined the Air Force and became a security police officer at Lackland Air Force Base. From these clippings and the birth records of his children, Sgt. and Mrs. Lewis seemed to have lived a life rich in travel, homecomings, and family.

The newspaper social submittals and obituaries document, in part, the remainder of Sgt. Lewis's military career and personal milestones.

After serving at Langley, Sgt. Willie Lewis was transferred to Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base, which was used as command and logistics hub by the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. There had been an official U.S. presence there since 1961. However, by 1970, most operations moved out of Don Muang to other bases. ("Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base Historical Brief," accessed 17 October 2019,

From the Beckley Post-Herald (10 January 1972), an article entitled "Fayette Soldier Dies in Thailand" appeared in the newspaper. The article explained that "Sgt. Willie Thomas Lewis, 30, of Long Branch, stationed with the U. S. Air Force in Thailand, died in the Army hospital there Jan. 5 after a short illness."

Willie and his brother Donald are buried in Greenwood Memorial Park in Beckley, West Virginia. Both died on or near their birthdays and while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
Headstone for Sgt. Willie Thomas Lewis in Greenwood Memorial Park in Beckley. Courtesy William Mullens

Headstone for Sgt. Willie Thomas Lewis in Greenwood Memorial Park in Beckley. Courtesy William Mullens

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
October 2019


Willie Thomas Lewis

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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