Called to Serve: Local Marine veteran volunteers for wounded soldiers
With American flags beside him, Chuck Lewis might be found on a street corner anywhere from Missoula to Kalispell. Always a Marine, Lewis will be standing tall and wearing his dress blues to collect either physical or monetary donations for wounded veterans returning to the United States from Iraq or Afghanistan.
Calling his effort Standing for the Fallen, Lewis explained that the wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are first sent to Germany. There’s a shortage of toiletries, underwear and sweats to put over their wounded bodies.
“I see things that need to be done, and I do them,” Lewis said.
Standing for the Fallen is the latest of Lewis’ causes. He also presents a program on veterans in the community and has been invited to the American Legion birthday parties in both Polson and St. Ignatius, Flathead Marines in Kalispell, Kalispell Lions, Masonic Lodge, Polson Kiwanis, Polson Rotary, the Ronan Chamber of Commerce, three government classes at Ronan High School and Tomy Parker’s benefit. The response has been good.
“Everybody loves it. I have so many people come up and thank me,” Lewis noted.
During his program, he explains flag protocol. For example, when a flag is draped on a casket the blue field of stars should be over the left shoulder of deceased. Lewis also addresses how to hang, fly and fold a flag. He noticed that a big box store in Missoula has the flag posted on the wall backwards. Lewis said. The stars should be on the upper left hand side as you face the flag. A flag being flown upside down is a sign of distress.
While his presentation touches on veterans' groups such as the Patriot Guard Riders, Band of Mothers, Color Guard, Missing in America, Veteran’s Honor Guard, Warrior Society, VFW and the American Legion, Lewis also throws in a visual feast of photographs and even a short piece by Red Skelton.
Skelton talked about the pledge of allegiance and the way a teacher of his, Mr. Laswell, explained it to his class.
The Missing in America group arranges proper burial for veterans whose cremated remains have been languishing on funeral home shelves. In New York, the group laid to rest the remains of 20 veterans discovered on such shelves.
Lewis is a member of the honor guards, combined group of Ronan and Polson.
Lewis became involved in veteran activism and education after searching for a friend he had served with in the Marine Corps. He found a name matching his friend’s on a marker in Riverside National Cemetery in California, but he wasn’t sure the man interred there was his friend. He knew the man’s sisters, so he called. The women had not seen their brother for five years so it was Chuck’s duty to reluctantly inform them their brother might have died four years ago.
“Gosh,” he thought, “our veterans are kind of going ignored.”
Another instance which pushed Lewis to action was a military funeral Lewis attended. The flag folding caught his eye, he said. He was curious as to why and how the flag was folded. Lewis’ program “helps people understand what it is we do.”
“I thought if I offer this presentation and talk about these things and why, we might get some new bodies (in the Honor Guard).”
Since Lewis is a member of the Honor Guard, he feels more members with additional practice could help him iron out the details of this very special, very important final tribute to make it even more professional.
“It’s the last time we have a chance to honor these people; they simply deserve no less than perfection,” Lewis explained.
To contact Lewis for information and to donate time and/or money, go to montanahonorguard@hotmail or call 270-5735.