The Lewis brothers

By Paul Wood

Photo By Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, the 74th anniversary of the Japanese Imperial navy’s devastating sneak attack on a U.S. naval base in Hawaii that caused Congress to declare war on Japan the next day, marking the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II.

The war had been going on in Europe since 1939, and many young American men and women had been eager to get in the fight, but few contributed as much to the effort as the Lewis family of Champaign.

All six brothers fought in World War II.

A newspaper clipping from the time notes the sacrifice made by the family and suggests it might have been a record for the state for Illinois.

“The six sons of Mr. and Mrs. Dowl Lewis of Champaign, who ranged in age from 19 to 30, all served in the Army at the same time,” the story reads.

The caption to their pictures reads: Pfc. Ivon Lewis, Cpl. Porter Lewis, Cpl. Malcolm Lewis, Pvt. Billy Lewis, Pvt. Vernon Lewis and Pvt. Dowl Lewis Jr.

The last of the brothers, Porter, was born Sept. 17, 1918, and passed away in 2002 or 2003. He was a resident of Alexandria, Va.

Vernon Lewis Jr. still lives in Savoy.

“The brothers all survived the war, yet they died relatively young,” he says.

He says his father didn’t like to talk too much about the war. He had a photo of the six brothers and says he is proud of the family heritage.

The brothers were originally from Kentucky. Vernon Lewis Sr. worked in construction.

“He was a plasterer by trade,” his son says. “He was a good baseball player. He played in the Negro leagues.”

“My father died in 1970,” said Rodney Lewis, who lives in Florida. “He had to run away to play for Chicago American Giants. His father wouldn’t let him play baseball.

“He finished playing with the Champaign Eagles in the Cornbelt League.”

Rodney Lewis said his father trained at Fort Smith, Ark., and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and then served in North Africa.

“The story that affected my father the rest of his life was, while at Fort Leonard Wood, his brother Porter was also there,” Rodney Lewis said. “My uncle Porter worked in the quartermaster corps. My father, Vernon, was assigned to go to North Africa. Porter got him orders to go home for 30 days. The ship his company was on sunk in the Mediterranean.”

It was torpedoed. Vernon Lewis Sr. was the only survivor of the company.

Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at