Richard Jackson Lewis, Sr.,

Wearer of the Purple Heart

LONDON—Commander Richard Jackson Lewis, United States Naval Reserve of Eau Claire, WI, has been awarded the Purple Heart by Admiral Harold R. Stark, Commander of the United States Navel Forces in Europe, for injuries received during an air raid last month.

The citation accompanying the award reads:  “For injuries received on June —, 1944 at London, England, as a result of an enemy air raid.  This Purple Heart is presented in recognition of injuries received in the service of your country.”

Commander Lewis’ home is located at 1724 Coolidge Court, Eau Claire.

Commander Lewis is president of the American National Bank of Eau Claire on leave of absence.  He entered the service in July 1942 and has been in England since October 1 of that year.

Commander Lewis Here for 2 Weeks

Commander R. J. Lewis, United States Naval Reserve, president of the American National Bank & Trust Company, arrived in Eau Claire Saturday, having flown from the European War Theater, where he is assigned.  He will spend about two weeks with his wife and son, Charles, at their home at 1724 Coolidge Court, before his return flight.

During the First World War, Commander Lewis was a Lieutenant in the Army, serving as balloon and airplane observer and balloon pilot and machine gunner.

His son, R. J. Jr., is a B-25 pilot in the South Pacific.

Lieutenant G. Donald Barnes, United States Naval Reserve, on leave of absence as Mayor of Eau Claire, is now in England, serving with a Naval Amphibious Force. Recently, he met three other Eau Claire men in England, and the above picture was taken when they got together for a visit.

From left to right are Private First Class LaVern (Jim) Haugen, son of Mrs. Elsie Haugen; Corporal Gordon Campbell, Assistant to City Assessor here, at the time he entered service, son of Mrs. William Campbell; Lieutenant G. Donald Barnes; Private John McRae, who resided at 416 Emery Street and worked for the U.S. Rubber Company here.

Lieutenant Barnes writes that there are now many Eau Claire men in England and that, recently, Lieutenant Commander R. J. Lewis of Eau Claire suggested holding an "Eau Claire Day" there; however, such a reunion will probably have to await more peaceful times.

Peter Speros, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Speros, 638 Balcom Street, is now stationed in England.

In a letter written to his sister, Mary, recently, he mentions meeting Lieutenant Commander Richard Lewis of Eau Claire in London. He also tells of the good times he has had during leaves with Greek soldiers and sailors stationed in England. He says he is now with the Ninth Air Force.

Eau Claire Men in London
Three Eau Claire men are shown above as they appeared at a meeting in London, England on January 14.

They are (from left to right) Major John R. Nygaard, USA, on duty with Allied Headquarters in London; Lieutenant Commander R. J. Lewis, United States Naval Reserve; and Major William J. Wrigglesworth, United States Air Force. The picture was taken in Major Nygaard's office. All three flew the Atlantic to arrive at their overseas posts. Commander Lewis, president of the American National Bank here, is in the Naval Aviation Branch and is in charge of priorities for passengers and freight on Naval planes. Major Wrigglesworth is a pilot. Major Nygaard is in Allied Headquarters Staff.

Written by Harold (Diz) Kronenberg

The much-awaited invasion of Europe was launched in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Known as D-Day, this date can be considered the beginning of the end for the Nazis; many soldiers were brought in on the Allied side to strengthen its forces, including both combat veterans and those who had not yet seen action in Europe. 

Lieutenant John Selmer of the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles, was killed just four days after he went into combat near Omaha Beach. He was buried first in the American cemetery at St. Mere Egilse but later moved to the American cemetery on Omaha Beach. John's brother Bob was the Captain of an aircraft carrier before he retired from the service. The family ran the Selmer Insurance Agency in Eau Claire. 

Richard J. Lewis, Sr., first president of the American National Bank of Eau Claire, reached the rank of Commander in the Navy; in preparation for D-Day, his duties included arranging the shipping of supplies to England. Lewis's military career began during World War I when he was a Second Lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps, serving in the particularly dangerous position of balloon observer. Balloon observers had a survival rate of only 10%. Lewis's son Dick was a B-25 Billy Mitchell bomber pilot in the South Pacific. 

John Hoeppner, a young naval officer from Eau Claire, took part in the Normandy invasion on D-Day. He and Don Sherwood were members of the 111th Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees). It was their responsibility to put ashore the tanks, jeeps, and guns and to establish a beachhead in preparation for the proposed crash through the mighty Weremacht defenses. 

The 111th Seabees Battalion was a tough outfit, noted for artistic cussing and the cocky claim that they were the "first to land and the last to leave," something that could not often be disputed. They were a rough-and-ready crew with a job to do, and they accomplished that job on the Omaha Beach, despite the intensity of the German resistance. 

Hoeppner told me in an interview that "about the only peril we didn't encounter was the much-expected Luftwaffe. An occasional Messerschmitt or Focke Wulfe made an appearance, but not in any formidable numbers."