"I died fighting to preserve their rights and freedoms"

Veterans' Day was Tuesday. Though we should always be remembering and thanking our veterans, it is special to set aside one day in the year specifically for them. We had a wonderful and full day up in the Dallas area, with many stories and pictures we will be sharing very shortly. Until then, here is an article I read on the way up which was very moving and thought-provoking;  especially the excerpt of a letter written by a 19-year old U.S. Navy sailor to his wife and children. Take a minute and read it; it is well worth your time. 

WWII veteran’s sacrifice lives on in Rome woman

by Carolyn Grindrod

Sandra “Charlee” Charlene Lewellyn Jameson’s name pays homage to a U.S. Navy sailor she never met. Just four months before Jameson was born in September 1945, her 19-year-old father, Charles Wesley Lewellyn, was killed alongside his identical twin brother aboard the USS Bunker Hill during a World War II kamikaze plane strike off the coast of Japan.

“I never knew my father,” she said Sunday at her home in The Village at Maplewood. “Some days I wish he didn’t have to make that sacrifice, but I understand that someone had to do it. Still, it’s affected my whole life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if hadn’t have happened.” 

In the run-up to Veterans Day, Jameson shared stories told to her of Lewellyn’s death and of the last letter he wrote to her mother, Wilda Jacqueline Moody, during his final moments in the Battle of Okinawa. Veterans Day — the official U.S. holiday honoring men and women who have served in the armed forces — is Tuesday. Jameson said her father enlisted in U.S. Navy Reserves while he was a senior at Harrisville High School in West Virginia. He married her mother while in school and, shortly after he graduated in 1944, he and his brother, William Todd Lewellyn, joined the hundreds of American enlisted men fighting during the war.

“He worked in the bakery on the ship,” said Jameson. “I’ve been told the twins were inseparable. Wherever one went, the other one was right there. They requested to go on the same ship together ... and during the battles, they were assigned to a gun.”

Jameson said that while her father was in the service, her mother gave birth to her older brother, David Lewellyn. “He was only 18 months older than me,” she added. “And in 1997, just a year after my mother passed away, he committed suicide. I don’t think he ever got over what happened to our father.” As Jameson laid out the old photos of the twins and of her family sharing tales of her father’s high school football and boxing years, she pored through items she had collected. A West Virginia newspaper clipping she found, published in the Parkesburg Gazette, details the May 11, 1945, strike that killed her father and uncle.

“Seconds later a single engine Japanese dive bomber came in from the stern, despite hits from a five inch shell and many smaller projectiles from the carrier’s AA batteries,” the article states. “It dropped a 500 pound bomb which penetrated the after flight deck and exploded in the gallery deck just below. It was this bomb that killed the Lewellyn boys it is thought, instantly.”

 Jameson said her mother received a telegram announcing her father’s passing a week before her aunt got the message about her uncle. A few months after her father’s death, an airmail letter appeared in their mailbox. “It was the last letter my father had written my mother during the war,” said Jameson. “Someone had found it and mailed it to her after the attacks. I just can’t imagine how hard that would have been for her.” The letter was among a stack of her father’s letters given to her as a teen.

It reads:

“Dear Hon,  I am sitting here listening to the sounds of rapid gun fire and bombing. I feel this will be the last chance I get to tell you how much I love you and our children.  Please explain to them that I died fighting to preserve their rights and freedoms, just as our forefathers did in the wars before this. Explain to them how important it is for them to continue this fight to protect their rights and the freedoms we presently have in the United States.  If they don’t... we will have all died in vain.” 

Jameson said that through the course of her life, her mother — who remarried when Jameson was 5 — never let her forget what her father died fighting for. “We were born in a time that you feared communism, Nazism, and being ‘red’,” said Jameson. “My father was extremely worried about what would happen if it got to the United States, and he died protecting the freedom of rights we have here in America today. Not just constitutional freedoms, but the freedom to make a change if needed. I’ve lived my entire life knowing you have to fight for those freedoms.”

Jameson’s father and uncle, like many who died in the Pacific, were buried at sea. He is listed on the Tablet of Missing in Action or Buried at Sea at the Honolulu Memorial in Hawaii and was awarded the Purple Heart. And decades after his death, a grave marker bearing his name was placed next to the one for his brother in the national cemetery in his home state of West Virginia. Jameson said she went this summer to visit the West Virginia National Cemetery site. “It was this feeling of closure,” she said. “Although I never met him, I will never forget him.”