Korean War Legacy Project

Curtis Lewis


Curtis Lewis was born in Wilson, Arkansas, on December 23, 1932. He enlisted in the Air force in 1952 after high school graduation and he was stationed at an Air force base in San Antonio. During basic training, he was screened, and earned high scores in techs specialty, so he primarily did maintenance work, took care of military personnel, and he was a carpenter by trade.  On October 13, 1956, he was discharged as a staff sergeant, section head. Through conversations he had with returning military personnel, he concluded soldiers did not have adequate guns to compete with the North Korean guns, and US soldiers were overrun by the sheer numbers of North Korean soldiers. He believes that there was discrimination against African Americans in the military, especially in the Navy since African Americans were relegated to jobs such as the navy motor pool, food service, supply, and trade jobs.

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African Americans in the Korean War

African Americans that were in the military during the 1950s faced discrimination. Curtis Lewis noticed that African Americans were relegated to jobs such as navy motor pool, food service, supply, and general trade jobs. Unfortunately, African Americans were still subjected to institutionalized racism in America.

Tags: Food,Home front,Living conditions

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Basic Training and MOS Training in California

Curtis Lewis graduated high school in 1952 and jointed the Air Force right away. He attended basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. After earning high scores in the technology industry, he was sent to California to learn his military operational specialty. While in California, he was able to see many of his Army friends leave for Korea, but not all returned.

Tags: Basic training,Civilians,Depression,Fear,Home front,Living conditions,Personal Loss,Pride

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Travis Air Force Base During the Korean War

Curtis Lewis was not sent to the Korean War during his time in the military. He heard that the US Army didn't have enough guns and ammunition while fighting against the North Koreans. Many of the US regiments were run over by the North Koreans due to lack of weapons. He was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California to perform maintenance and was paid 200 dollars a month and he earned his way up to Staff Sergeant.

Tags: Home front,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Pride,Prior knowledge of Korea

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


C:        Curtis Lewis, 12/23/32.
I:          December

C:        Twenty-third, 1932.

I:          So, you were born very close to Christmas.

C:        Yes.

I:          Christmas boy.  Where were you born?
C:        Wilson, Arkansas.

I:          Wilson?
C:        Um hm.

I:          And tell me about your family when you were growing up.



C:        Oh, it was a normal poor family, working people.   My dad was a carpenter.  We later moved to Detroit, Michigan in the early ‘40’s.  And that’s where I grew up.  I went to high school there.  I graduated from Hamtramck High School.

I:          Hampton?
C:        Hamtramck.

I:          Could you spell it?
C:        HAMTRAMCK.



I:          AMCK.

C:        Uh huh.

I:          Hamtramck.

C:        Hamtramck.

I:          Hamtramck.

C:        Um hm.

I:          High School.

C:        In Michigan.

I:          And what year was it?

C:        It was, I graduated from high school in 1952.  I went into the Air Force also in 1952.



So, I went to Travis Air, I mean, Lackland Air Base in

I:          San Antonio

C:        Yeah.

I:          And where did you get

C:        Training?
I:          Yeah.

C:        Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, San Antonio, Texas.

I:          What kind of training was it?

C:        Oh, that would qualify you for whatever field you wanted to go into.



I:          Um hm.

C:        So, the Air Force.  I went to tech school, not tech school but screening.  And my highest score was in tech specialty.  So, when I got through with training, I was moved to Travis Air Base in Fairfield, California.

I:          Um hm.



So, you were in high school when the Korean War broke out, right?

C:        Yes.

I:          Did you know about that?

C:        Not really.  Just vaguely.

I:          Did you know anything about Korea at the time that you heard?
C:        Oh, the base I went to, Travis Air Base, that was military air transportation and strategic air command.



So, if you went to Korea from California, you left from Travis Base.  And you also came back to Travis if you came back by air.

I:          Um.

C:        So, I got to meet a lot of guys, I mean, the Air Force, the Marines that went over by air from Travis.  Got to see some of them going and coming.



Saw some guys I went to high school with go over. Some returned, some didn’t.

I:          What did you hear from them?  Did they talk anything about the Korean War?

C:        Not about personal experience.  The only thing I heard about the Korean War was just really here say.

I:          Hm.  So, you’ve never been to Korea, right?

C:        Never did.

I:          Never did.



But you are a Korean War veteran.

C:        Right.
I:          Yeah.  So, what do you think about that?
C:        Uh, I thought it was a mishap, you know.  I really didn’t, you know, a lot of guys getting killed, and I didn’t see the reason why.  I know that a lot of the, I know these guys that went over said they was on the gun, you know.  They didn’t have adequate guns to compete with the North Korean guns.



And a lot of guys got killed running because they didn’t have guns would melt the barrels, you know, it wouldn’t fire.  And there were a lot of also got overrun by the North Koreans because it seemed like they were high on something because they would overrun whole regiments.  This is what I heard.

I:          Um hm.

C:        So, it was kind of chaotic, you know.



I was just showing I would go and defend the country, you know, that’s sort of new.  So, that’s what I did.  So, I got stationed at Travis.  But my job was to take care of military personnel, basically maintenance work on carpenter by trade.



I went in a PFC or (INAUDIBLE) first class, and when I got discharged in ’56, I was Staff Sergeant, a section head.

I:          How much was your salary at the time?

C:        My salary at that time?  Probably about $200 a month.



I:          As a Staff Sergeant?
C:        Yeah.

I:          Um hm.  Was it enough to live?
C:        Oh yeah, it was enough to live.

I:          I mean,

C:        Well, see, your meals and that, all this was, your meals and all that was free.  You didn’t have to pay for that.

I:          Right.

C:        So actually, this was cash money to spend on socializing or whatever.



I:          Were you scared that if you were going to

C:        Not really, you know.  I was trained to fight, you know.  So, we had help training.  And we also had physical exercises in case you were shipped to combat, you know, how to fight, you know and that. So, being Staff Sergeant was the supervisor level, you know.  So, I worked through the training from private all the way up to supervisor.



I:          Were there any discrimination against the African Americans in the base?
C:        Oh yes.

I:          Tell me about it.

C:        Well, it was kind of special for blacks, you know.

I:          Um hm.

C:        And I talked to several guys in other branches of the service, particularly the Navy was very prejudiced.


Most blacks were either put into motor pool, food service, supply and the trades which (INAUDIBLE), you know.  So, I came up (INAUDIBLE)

I:          But why is it bad to serve in the supply or motor pool?
C:        Well, there were if you went to school.

I:          Right.  But it’s safer, right, than in the front line, right?
C:        Yes.



I:          Uh huh.  So, when were you discharged?
C:        I was discharged October 13, 1956.

I:          And what did you do?
C:        Went back to Detroit.  My father was a general contractor.  So, I worked in his operation.  I was a journeyman carpenter.



I:          Um hm.  So, you must be a good carpenter.

C:        All three of us were, from laying out to roughing and finish.  My whole family, three uncles and three brothers, several cousins in the same outfit.

I:          Um hm.

C:        Lewis Brothers Construction Company.

I:          Oh.  That’s the name?
C:        Yes.

I:          Lewis Brothers Construction.

C:        Uh huh.



I:          So, you had a good time.

C:        Um hm.

I:          So, how does this Veterans’ home treat you?

C:        Oh, it treats me swell.  No complaints about that.  They take 55% of your check which is in mid-March.  But the services and everything you need, medical, you know, stuff like that, they change your bedding.



Once a week.  They clean your room every day.  You get three meals a day which is I’ve (INAUDIBLE).     No people eat three times a day.  And other than that, I’d give it a high rating, you know.  It’s a clean building.  They have different places to go, historical sites,



To the ball games, to the plays, like I said, musicals things and quite a bit, you know.  They take good care of the elderly ones and the ones in wheelchairs and also the ones that get about on their own.



I:          Are you proud to be a Korean War veteran?
C:        Pardon me?
I:          Are you proud of yourself to be a Korean War veteran?

C:        Oh yes.

I:          Um hm.  Great.  Any other message that you wanna leave to this interview?
C:        No.  It was a great experience if you didn’t go to college, you know.  You do have training when you get into the service, they try to put you in the most qualified field.



And also, for work, you have three selections, and they try to give you at least one of them, you know.  I was able to get into trade which worked out perfect for me, you know.

I:          Excellent.

C:        Um hm.  (INAUDIBLE) of service when I could, too, to let you know my experience, what I went through.  And thank you.

I:          Thank you.