Milton Lewis Young Marines honor hero


Members of the Milton Lewis Young Marines salute during the grave marker dedication ceremony for Corporal Milton Lewis at Evergreen Cemetery in Gainesville on Monday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, May 27, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.

Amid the barbecues, pool parties and other revelry celebrating Memorial Day, friends and family members of those in uniform who sacrificed their lives during wartime took quietly to the cemeteries of Gainesville and Alachua County.

They tended the plots of their loved ones, repaired the armature for wreaths and placed fresh flowers under the shelter of live oaks.

And while countless residents honored their loved ones in private, the grave of one fallen soldier received special attention Monday.

About 60 people attended the new marker dedication for the Evergreen Cemetery gravesite of U.S. Marine Cpl. Milton Lewis, the first person from Gainesville killed in action during World War II. The event was hosted by the city of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department and sponsored by the Milton Lewis Young Marines of Gainesville, named after the local hero.

“This is the first time the Young Marines have had a chance to place a plaque and put information about the heroic deed he did on the island of Tulagi,” said Cary Hill, unit commander of Young Marines.

The Young Marines are a nationwide youth education and service group for children age 8 through high school graduation.

It took three years to accomplish, Hill said, but they did it. “We are so proud.”

On August 7, 1942, in the Solomon Islands, Lewis led a unit on the island of Tulagi, said Bob Gasche, a former Marine who served in World War II on Iwo Jima and in Korea. Lewis' unit was under severe attack, and he single-handedly charged an enemy machine gun nest. Lewis was mortally wounded but his bravery inspired his unit to keep fighting and take out the nest, Gasche said.

Lewis, who was born in Gainesville in 1920 and attended Gainesville High, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the nation's second highest military decoration for valor.

Lewis also had a destroyer escort named after him. Gasche presented Lewis' niece Barbara Menzies with the champagne bottle used in the dedication of the destroyer escort in Tampa. “Thank you for all you've done,” she said. “We are so grateful.”

About a dozen family members attended and participated by laying the wreath and sprinkling the grave with rosemary.

“We are all family now,” said Linda Reeves, another niece.

Gasche said he felt more than gratitude — he was proud to be involved in honoring Lewis and proud of the respect the Young Marines displayed after they had each solemnly marched up to the grave and laid down a single red rose.

“This is one of the most meaningful and moving graveside ceremonies (he had ever attended),” Gasche said.

Ken Herring watched with pride as his daughter Kierra, 11, participated in the honor guard.

“I am very proud of her,” said Herring, who served 15 months in Operation Iraqi Freedom. His wife discovered the Young Marines program online, and after checking it enrolled Kierra in it.

“She is really into it,” Herring said.

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