October, 21 2002
Don't know if this is going to Ken Davey or someone else, in any case this inquiry is being sent by the husband of
Esther B. Lewin, who was widowed when Len Lewis was killed at Omaha Beach on June 8, 1944 (the official date on his
grave marker at the American Military Cemetery, St. Laurent/Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy). Esther and I have been
married for 54 years, and over the years she has found it somewhat difficult to delve into the details of D-Day and
Omaha Beach. We recently obtained some information through Senator John McCain which focused me on the Sixth Naval
Beach Battalion and led me to you through a Google search. When Len Lewis was ordered to Camp Bradford, he was the
proud father of a three month old daughter, and his generational progeny now includes two grandchildren and
currently, three great-grandchildren. As a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII (LT j.g. USNR), I believe it is important
for the family to have as much detailed knowledge about Len's service with the Sixth NBB and his untimely death
on D+2. If you have any information or details, or if any who will be in attendance at the upcoming reunion can
contribute to a clearer understanding of the events of those fateful days, we would appreciate being contacted.
Thanks for your help,
|Company "C" officers of the 6th NBB standing left to right: Len Lewis,
killed in Normandy, Joe Vaghi, George (skipper) Clyburn, Karl Hein, Alex Whittle and John Kincaid, killed in
the Pacific Theater. Seated left to right: Russ Davey, Don White, Vince Perrin and Mike Etzl.
Starting with my earliest childhood memory, I have been aware of the face and name of Len Lewis my entire life.
I was born 3 June 1947. My mother would get out our family scrapbook to show her four children a photograph of our
"Daddy" and standing behind him was shipmate Len Lewis KIA on D-Day. My father, Russ Davey, died 5 June 1948.
There seems to be some discrepancy as to the day Len Lewis died during the Normandy landings. In 1944, both Dr. John
F. Kincaid (KIA 1945) and Dr. J. Russell Davey wrote of Len's death on D-Day. The following is the account I have
been able to piece together:
The USCG-manned LCI(L) 85 struck a mine at 8:30 a.m. on D-Day and then took multiple hits from the 88s and machine gun
fire. At the very moment the shore batteries opened up, U.S. Navy Beachmaster Karl E. Hein - now an 89 years old
veteran from Rockford, IL - was leading his C-9 Platoon down the starboard ramp of the 158-foot-long landing craft
carrying approximately 140 soldiers and 60 sailors of the 6th NBB. Seaman Robert Giguere, a C-9 Platoon member said
the machine gun bullets hitting the side of the craft "sounded like hail hitting a tin roof." Lt. (jg) Coit T.
Hendley, Jr., USCGR, Commanding Officer of the LCI reported that when the 88s began hitting the ship, "the shells
tore into the troop compartments. They exploded on the deck. They smashed through the massed men trying to get down
the ramp. Machine guns opened up. Men were hit and men were mutilated. There was no such thing as a minor wound. The
guns seemed to concentrate on the forward part of the ship, and so well did they do their work that unloading was
stopped because it was impossible to get past the pile of dead and wounded. Finally a hit finished off the ramp."
There were 30 casualties including 15 killed. Among the dead were three 6th NBB officers - Beachmaster Jack Hagerty
(B-5), Beachmaster G.E. Wade (B-6), and Assist. Beachmaster Len Lewis (C-9). The battalion medical officer preparing
to go ashore, Dr. John F. Kincaid (C-9), reported that moments before the fatal blast, Jack Hagerty "was assisting
me in treating one of the casualties. He turned to lead his men ashore and I moved forward to treat another
casualty. At that moment, a heavy shell landed aboard, killing Jack instantly. Wade, another of our officers, who
was standing beside Jack at the time got it with the same shell." Hagerty's senior boatswain's mate, George Abbott
and leading pharmacist's mate, John O'Donnell were also killed. Having survived the D-Day landings, U.S. Navy
Beachmaster James E. Allison was killed a number of hours later on the beach.
As you must be aware, the NBBs of WWII were left out of the history books for nearly half a century. In recent years,
the 6th Naval Beach Battalion made the cover story of the June 2002 issue of National Geographic magazine. The
article includes a photo of the LCI(L) 85 on D-Day. You will also discover in our website that the 6th NBB was
recently awarded the Presidential Unit Citation as described in the Congressional Record.
Stan, I have put your email address in my address book and will share your request for information with Battalion
members. I would strongly urge your family to join the 6th NBB Association by contacting Ed and Betts Marriott. Ed
and my father were together in Platoon C-8, traveled to France aboard the LCI(L) 88 and went ashore Easy Red at 0735
Please have Len's daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren feel free to contact me. I am also interested in
your military service during WWII. Don't forget to download the photo "attachment" in this message.
The photo above appears on page # 228 of Jonathan Gawne's great invasion book "Spearheading D-Day."
Incidentally, your wife might remember my mother Mary Davey. There was a group of officers' wives who, in 1943,
lived near or often visited Camp Bradford, VA and Fort Pierce, FL.
Hope to hear from you again.
Esther B. Lewin, widow of LTJG Leonard L. Lewis, USNR, at graveside, American Military Cemetery, Colleville-sur-mer, Normandy, France, 4 August 1993.
November 9, 2002
My name is Stan Lewin and my wife, Esther Berger Lewin was, at the time we met in l947, the widow of Leonard L. Lewis,
LT JG, USNR, your 6th NBB shipmate. Len's daughter, Linda, was ten months old on D-Day 1944 and unfortunately had no
real opportunity to get to know her father although his memory was and is an integral part of her life. Having
served in the Navy during WWII myself aboard the submarine tender USS EURYALE (AS-22), Esther and I had a basis
for a meaningful exchange from the day we met. We married in l948 and Esther and Len's daughter, Linda, became my
adopted daiughter that same year. Ken Davey has been kind enough to give me the benefit of his knowledge and to keep
me informed of the activities of the 6th NBB group. I have informed Linda and her husband and their son and daughter
(two of our four grandchildren) about the details of D-Day events surrounding the Omaha Beach landing of the 6th
NBB and they now have a better understanding of the withering fire, shelling and obstacles encountered at the
time Len was killed. As of this date, I have not discussed the newly revealed details with Esther because she
has been having some health problems and I am waiting for a more opportune time. However, I am certain that it
would be sensible to join the 6th NBB organization. Please let me know the procedure for signing up and sending
in the requisite dues. Saw the slide show (Vaghi style) of the Atlanta reunion. Looks like a good time was had
by all with proper recognition and memorialization of those who died during the invasion and the many shipmates
who have died over the past 58 years. Enjoy the coming holiday season as we deal with a world in turmoil.
In 1984, the late Washington Times Associate Editor Coit Hendley wrote a D-Day account of his USCG-manned LCI(L) 85. A photograph of Commander Hendley's ill-fated landing craft was published in the June 2002 issue of National Geographic - "Untold Stories of D-Day." The Geographic cover article featured Joe Vaghi and the 6th Naval Beach Battalion. Jack Hagerty and Len Lewis were 6th Naval Beach Battalion passengers KIA aboard the LCI(L) 85. USN Beachmaster Hagerty's family sent the following message to Coit Hendley's son:
I just finished reading the Washington Times newspaper article your father wrote in 1984. Frank Vyn was kind enough to send it to us.
It brought tears to my eyes to think of the incredible burden your father and other men carried with them as a result of their bravery that day. I was stunned to learn that he was only 23 years old at the time.
His article answers so many questions for me, and I am so grateful that he took the time and withstood the pain of reliving his memories of that day long enough to write down his thoughts and impressions. I continue to be amazed at how much Steve and I have learned about the events surrounding the loss of his great uncle Jack. Ten years ago, when we first began trying to collect information about Jack's military experience, all we knew to do was to request his military record. It shed only a tiny bit of light on the matter, and we assumed that this was all we would ever learn. By some coincidence or miracle, Ken Davey learned we were interested in knowing more, and ever since then, we have been provided with first-hand accounts, photos, and documentation relating to the events in which Jack would have been involved. It is very gratifying to know these things. In 1944, there were few ways for the family to get such information, and I suppose in their grief they did not pursue many of these questions. We have shared everything we have learned with Jack's three living sisters and, until his death a couple years ago, his youngest brother. They deeply appreciated knowing that others remember Jack and mourn his loss. And it helps to understand a little more about his role in this historic event. After all, the family never had the benefit of Jack's returning home to tell his story, and I suppose this is what we are craving.
It makes me feel good to know that after all these years there are veterans who continue to share their stories and friends and families who preserve their words and share them with others. Thank you again for making contact with us. I will say a prayer of thanks, too, to your father. He was such a young man, given such an impossible task, and he continues to touch our lives even now.
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