“Andrew Higgins is the man who on the war for us. If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower on the Higgins ships used in WWII.

Young County resident Samuel Odis Lewis said he lived in an LCVP ship, or Higgins boat, for nearly two years. If you study World War II history, or even saw the horrific opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, you know the boats. 

Lewis was the coxswain, in charge of his own Higgins boat 70 years ago when the Americans liberated Guam from the Japanese during WWII. 

This Monday, July 21, marks the 70th anniversary of that invasion.

But years before his WWII chapter would unfold, Lewis was born on a ranch in Comanche an April 24, 1925. He moved to Young County with his family in 1927. He remained there until he turned 18 and decided to join the U.S. Navy. He took a bus to the Federal Building in Dallas, was sworn into the U.S. Navy and hopped on a steam engine train to San Diego for boot camp.

“The cars we were in, the seats were all taken, so we got newspapers and sat on them all night in the aisle until the morning,” Lewis said. “A group got off to go to Fort Bliss and I got a seat to San Diego. You did what you had to do.”

Eight weeks of boot camp and several immunizations later, Lewis headed to Land Craft School at Coronado Island just across the San Diego Bay, where he learned how to operate Higgins boats. Afterwards he was sent to another land craft school at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base. 

He received the last of his training at Solomon Island. After almost a year of training, Lewis, who by that time had earned his status as coxswain, took a Higgins boat and four crew members and made the invasion into Guam on July 21,1944. They were charged with taking the island, which was American territory, back from the Japanese who sieged it.

“We put lots of marines on the beach for the next four days,” Lewis said, adding that a combined total of 55,000 U.S. Navy and Army troops faced 19,000 Japanese soldiers. “You get lots of experience when you’re getting shot at.”

For 24 days, Lewis said, the Americans and Japanese went head-to-head in combat on the tiny island of Guam. 

“I took a lot of the wounded to the ship by boat,” Lewis said. “That was a hard job. We buried the (dead) in the ocean because there was no place for us to bury them. That’s a hard call for a kid to make.”

On the 24th day, U.S. Maj. Gen. Roy Geiger declared the island secure. Afterward, Lewis began hauling supplies to the beach and stayed in Guam for 16 more months.

“There was no electricity or running water, and there was nothing there — it was all destroyed from the battle,” he said.

In December 1945, Lewis returned to the U.S. and was honorably discharged in February 1946. He returned to Young County and decided to reenlist in the U.S. Navy in 1947 and was again honorably discharged in September 1951. The Korean War had taken place during that time span, but Lewis was busy with a number of duties, including transporting bomb scientists to Eniwetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands where he witnessed two atomic bomb tests.

“I can’t describe it,” Lewis said.

Read more in Sunday's Graham Leader.