After returning from a college visit and deciding not to attend the school, United States Navy Senior Chief Quartermaster Arthur W. Lewis recalled his father entering him into the service by sharing, “He woke me up at 7:00 and dragged me off to the Navy recruiting station… and had me enlisted in the Navy by 8:30 that morning because he thought I would be drafted...he had been in the British Merchant Marines, going to sea was secondary.” Senior Chief Quartermaster Lewis recalled his Naval and Foreign Service career with great fondness to a Navy Memorial film crew in the summer of 2014 at Vinson Hall.
Lewis entered the Navy in 1943 at the height of World War II and remarked, “My first assignment was to boot camp at Great Lakes…Camp Robert Smalls. When I joined the Navy, it was segregated, completely segregated.” He spoke positively about the experience and learned all he could about Navy life. Following boot camp, Lewis would take a test that would impact the future of his naval career. Lewis shared, “Towards the end of boot camp we were given an examination… it turned out I did well enough on the exam…and I went to Signalmen’s School.” He was sent to San Francisco for further assignments and was awaiting his orders to report to a ship. Lewis recalled a disheartening moment in his early career, "I began to find out what segregation was all about. Every ship I went to, they were apologetic and said ‘we can’t take you’ because all of the African Americans were Steward Mates and Cooks for the officers…so I went to a number of ships and the same thing." Undaunted he was then sent to Hawaii awaiting a ship. His orders would finally arrive and his ship would be a great distance away, but with orders in hand Lewis shared, "And finally they found a ship for me.”
His first assignment would be aboard a Patrol Craft. Lewis would then serve across the Pacific and would sail to patrol the entrance of Tokyo Harbor during the Surrender Ceremony aboard the USS Missouri. At the conclusion of World War II Lewis would return home, but would be called upon by the Navy again as a reservist to take part in the Recommissioning Ceremony of the USS Cushing DD 797 where he would participate in the Korean War.
His most memorable moment in the Navy, however, would be his service on the Commissioning Crew of the USS Saratoga CVA 60, “When I got the telegram from the Department of Defense, I went to the receiving station at the ship yard...my assignment came…to the pre-commissioning crew of the Saratoga…I really enjoyed being transferred to the Saratoga because this was the apex of my career in the Navy...Every day there was something going on with the construction.” As the ship took form, Lewis was assigned to the Navigation Division and began to work on charts and preparing for sea trials.
He remembered fondly the first day of sea trials going into the open ocean, “The first time we had to go out to sea I had to compute the time that it was going to be low tide under the Brooklyn Bridge...I had to compute the exact time...and we got through...It was wonderful because I’ve been with a Destroyer, I’ve been with a PC, …and then also we had all this speed, 36 knots we could do…It was really quite something to see the majesty of the ship.” From the Saratoga, Lewis would serve in Naples, Italy and his final assignment would send him back to the very same college which he originally decided not to attend. Lewis looked back on his final assignment and shared, “From Naples I was assigned to the NROTC at Dartmouth…I’m sure the Navy didn't know that I had a chance to go to Dartmouth for school.” He would teach Navigation courses to the NROTC and take courses at Dartmouth. Upon his discharge from the Navy, he would continue his service by working for the United States Information Agency.
To hear the inspiring story of World War II, Korean War, and Cold War Veteran, Senior Chief Quartermaster Arthur W. Lewis come alive; view his detailed experience that has been digitally archived by the Navy Memorial.
The United States Navy Memorial honors Senior Chief Quartermaster Arthur W. Lewis, featured within the series titled, Tales from the Navy Log, Story of the Month. Each month, this series honors a Veteran’s story recorded by the Stories of Service Program at the Navy Memorial. To learn more about this story and to explore the Navy Memorial Tales from the Navy Log Archive, visit the Navy Memorial Stories of Service site.