When he was just a little guy, Jack Lewis became separated from his mother in a large department store. Anyone who’s been lost in a department store at the age of five or six knows that it’s a terrifying experience. But then, two young men came to his rescue. They were Marine Corps recruiters, wearing the dress blue uniform that makes Marines stand out among all other servicemen. They returned him to his mom. Jack Lewis never forgot those Marines.
So, in 1942, when it came time for Americans to stand up against fascism, C. Jack Lewis made his way to the local recruiting office and joined the Marines. Now, for the uninitiated, there are only two kinds of Marines: live Marines and dead Marines. You see, becoming a United States Marine is a lifetime endeavor. My good friend Colonel Jim Bathurst titled his autobiography on this very concept: as long as Marines keep faith with one another, and with the code of honor to which we all subscribe, then, We’ll All Die As Marines.
I met Lieutenant Colonel Jack Lewis while assigned as the Adjutant, Marine Aircraft Group 46 in 1979-81. Lewis was a reserve officer, then serving as the Reserve Liaison Officer for Southern California. I suspect that there was no better-qualified individual to serve in that capacity than Colonel Lewis. He served in World War II, the Korean War, and in Vietnam. In each instance, after serving a tour of combat duty, Jack left the active-duty force and went back into the Marine reserve. He did this, he told me because there was too much “chicken shit” in the active force … and if there was one thing Lewis could not abide, it was “oppressive regulations, careerist officers, and people who called themselves Marines but wouldn’t have made a pimple of a dead Marine’s ass.”
Like many young men of his day, the teenaged Jack Lewis became what he described as an “amateur juvenile delinquent.” He was always in trouble. The problem wasn’t so much Jack’s behavior as it was that he wanted more out of life than his circumstances would allow. By the late 1930s, Jack was looking for something special in his life. Something that would offer him a challenge, hold him accountable, and something that he could love with unbridled passion. In this regard, the Second World War probably came along at the right time for Jack Lewis. Jack Lewis joined the Marines out of a sense of patriotism, but in doing so, he found that “special something” he was looking for. The Marines squared his ass away, gave him a reason to get up in the morning, inculcated him with the values so dear to anyone who has ever (honorably) worn the uniform of a United States Marine. The U. S. Marine Corps became the organization that set him on the pathway of success for the balance of his life.
Jack was born in Iowa on 19 November 1924 but at the age of two, his family moved to Florida. As a lad, he was a voracious reader and a writer and at age 14, he sold his first novel … The Cherokee Kid’s Last Stand. The novel earned him five dollars. Now, while five dollars doesn’t sound like a lot of money, one must recall that in those days a field hand earned a dollar a day for backbreaking work. No, it wasn’t much, but he was fourteen years of age, and it was a start in a writing career that lasted the balance of his 84-years.
Following World War II, Lewis returned to Iowa, where in 1949 he graduated from the state university with a degree in journalism. He was subsequently commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve. A short time later he was assigned to help produce a Marine Corps training film, and then owing to his service in World War II, he became a technical advisor to the John Wayne film, Sands of Iwo Jima. Of this later effort, Lewis said that he basically advised members of the cast on how to lace up their leggings. He no doubt contributed far more than that.
When the Korean War erupted in June 1950, Lewis returned to active duty for six years. He served as a combat correspondent and photographer. Now this may not seem like much in terms of what Hollywood tells us about combat (which is mostly wrong), but every Marine — no matter what his occupational specialty, no matter what his rank — is first and foremost a rifleman. Initially, Jack Lewis carried an M-1 carbine as his T/O weapon. It was the first time he’d carried that particular firearm, considerably smaller than the M-1 Garand. In one fire fight, Jack shot a communist Chinese soldier eight times, hitting him six times, without doing any noticeable damage to this enemy. Another Marine standing nearby, who was armed with a Thompson submarine gun, stepped up and blew the communist into the afterlife. Allowing that no matter where you hit a man with a .45 caliber weapon he’s going down, Lewis thereafter armed himself with a Thompson and would not part with it. During a second combat tour of duty in Korea, Lewis earned a Bronze Star for his work filming Marine Corps aircraft engaging the enemy from an exposed position.
During the Korean War, Jack Lewis submitted over two dozen magazine articles to Marine Corps headquarters for publication in the Leatherneck Magazine. HQMC returned the articles telling Lewis that they all sounded too much like Marine Corps propaganda. Miffed, Lewis then sent the articles to his civilian literary agent who had them published, earning Lewis $200.00 each. Lewis sent copies of the published articles to the individual at HQMC who had rejected them. Knowing Jack, I can easily imagine that he sent these copies with a caustic note, but I don’t know that for a fact.
Following the Korean War, Jack commanded a rifle company in the 4th Marines at Camp Pendleton, California. He was subsequently transferred to the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii where he served as a public information officer. During this tour of duty, Lewis was assigned as a technical advisor on John Ford’s film titled Mister Roberts. When no one could locate a stunt performer to drive a motorcycle off a pier, Lewis did the job himself. Lewis later appeared in a minor role in Admiral Ford’s film, Sergeant Rutledge.
Marines, by their nature, are exceptional. Jack’s stellar performance prompted his commanding officer to encourage Jack to apply for a regular (as opposed to reserve) commission. Jack would have none of this, however. He wanted to pursue a writing career and upon expiration of his active duty obligation, Jack Lewis returned to inactive service in the reserves.
In addition to writing screenplays for films, Lewis found work as a magazine editor in 1956; after three years of learning how magazines are done, he teamed up with Dean Grennell to publish Gun World magazine in 1959. He continued to author the monthly knife column until his death in 2009. Lewis was highly critical of the capabilities of various weapons marketed to military and law enforcement agencies. In fact, he was so critical that the firearms manufacturing companies refused to advertise in his magazine. Lewis once told the Commandant of the Marine Corps that the M16’s only consistent effect was that it changed the world’s perception of the American rifleman. Americans, he said, used to be sharpshooters, but after the M16, they were little more than “sprayers.”
Jack Lewis developed a story that he originally titled Year of the Tiger. When Marshall Thompson selected Lewis’ work for a 1963 film, he hired Lewis to write the screenplay and the title was changed to A Yank in Viet-Nam, which was filmed on location in South Vietnam in 1963, often in the midst of, or within range, of actual fire fights.
In 1966, Lewis published a novel titled Tell it to the Marines. It is the story of a Marine officer who, during the Korean War, is placed in command of a band of misfits in a motion picture unit. In the preface of this book, Jack penned, “Any similarity to persons, places, or incidents is highly plausible; only the names have been changed to avoid court-martial.” The humor in this book may be lost among those who never earned the Marine Corps emblem, and among those born in the 21st Century, life in the Marine Corps during the Korean war may not resonate. I have a copy of this book on my shelf.
He was also the author of White Horse, Black Hat: A Quarter Century on Hollywood’s Poverty Row; Renegade Canyon; Mohave; Massacre Mountain; and The Coffin Racers.
In 1969, Lewis returned to active duty to serve a full-length tour in Vietnam with the III Marine Amphibious Corps. During this tour, Lewis earned his second and third air medal, signifying 50 air missions exposed to enemy fire. Lewis retired from the Marine Corps in 1984, one day prior to his 60th birthday.
Colonel Jack Lewis was a man of many talents and many careers. He did not suffer fools gladly; he was a maverick, not at all concerned about becoming someone else’s vision of a Marine —but his own vision was good enough for him and almost everyone who knew him. He may have been a bit rough around the edges, and blunt, but he was a decent man whose professionalism was well-balanced with his friendliness. He loved his Corps, and he loved Marines until his last breath. In the company he managed for 37 years, he preferred hiring retired and former Marines. When Jack Lewis retired, he moved to Hilo, Hawaii, where he continued to write. Colonel C. Jack Lewis, United States Marine Corps Reserve, passed away at his home on 24 May 2009.
 Dean Grennell (1923-2004) served as a firearms instructor in the Army Air Corps during World War II and is remembered as an American firearms expert, writer, editor, managing editor of Gun World magazine, and the editor of the science fiction “fanzine” Grue.
 Marshall Thompson (1925-1992) (a classmate of Norma Jean Baker) was an actor, director, and producer of films beginning in the 1940s of science fiction genre. One film titled The Terror from Beyond Space in 1958 became the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien films. A second Viet Nam era film was titled To the Shores of Hell (1965).