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Myer 'Jerry' Lewis, 104; Served in Both World Wars

October 21, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Myer "Jerry" Lewis, who served under the Canadian flag in World War I and the U.S. stars and stripes in World War II, has died. He was 104.

Lewis, who continued to participate in veterans parades and programs until near his death, died Wednesday in a retirement center in Los Gatos, Calif., of causes associated with aging.

He gloried in victory parades in London at the cessation of European fighting in both wars -- after the November 1918 armistice and after V-E Day in May 1945 -- and remembered both as "a big, big thrill."

"My part in World War I and World War II was very small, but I was happy to do what I could for these two great countries," Lewis said three years ago in Cupertino, Calif., when the government of Canada presented him the McCrae Medallion and Queen's Certificate in gratitude for his service during the Great War.

At the same ceremony, he also received awards from the U.S. Navy for his efforts in World War II, and from California, Santa Clara County and Cupertino.

Asked at the time about his longevity, Lewis said, "I attribute my staying power to lots of tennis and handball, no smoking or drinking, and my wife, Emily ... a dietitian." His wife, whom he married in 1933, died in 1996.

The son of a career soldier in the British Army, Lewis was born in London in 1899, and moved with the family to postings in South Africa and Malta before immigrating to Ottawa, Canada, in 1910. Later working as a clerk there, the teenage Lewis enlisted with the Motor Transport Unit of the Canadian Army Service Corps as part of its World War I 4th Expeditionary Force.

Barred from combat because of his flat feet, Lewis spent that war in Honiton, England, driving 2-ton Kelly trucks that had to be cranked to start the engines and handling clerical and supply duties

. "That was a very, very long time ago, but I remember everything about it," Lewis said in 2000.

At war's end, he returned to Ottawa, working as a clerk for government agencies until 1924, when he immigrated to the U.S. He became a citizen in 1932, and spent his civilian career selling stocks, bonds and life insurance for Metropolitan Life in Chicago.

Although Lewis was 43 as the U.S. built up forces for World War II, he enlisted in the Navy with Fleet Air Wing 7. He returned to England, serving in the Dunkeswell area in antisubmarine patrols. Three years later, he remembered escorting in the first German U-boat to surface after Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945.

Both wars brought him into contact with celebrity entertainers -- Sarah Bernhardt after the Great War, and Irving Berlin and Kate Smith during World War II.

Lewis remained in the Navy Reserves and retired as Aviation Storekeeper 1st Class in 1965, the same year he retired from Metropolitan Life.

The Lewises moved to Florida. But after his wife's death in 1996, the childless widower relocated to Northern California to be near two of his six surviving nieces and nephews.

Mentally sharp until his death, Lewis, who lived in three centuries, was asked what he considered the most important advancement of the 20th. Without hesitation, he said, "the silicon chip."

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert W. Johnson, California adjutant for the Veterans of World War I of the USA, said that memorial services for Lewis are scheduled at 2 p.m. Sunday at Los Gatos United Methodist Church, 111 Church St., Los Gatos, CA 95030, and that memorial donations can be made to that church.

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