Prewar Life to Enlistment

Induction and Japan

Life in Japan and Home


Robert Lewter was born Lincoln County, Tennessee in October 1927. His father was a sharecropper. Lewter grew up chopping cotton and plowing fields. He is the oldest of seven children. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer asks Lewter if the family did okay during the Great Depression, a global economic depression that lasted from 1929 through 1945.] They stayed on the farm and worked. He attended a three-teacher school. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer asks Lewter if he remembers hearing about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941.] He recalls very little as they did not have a radio then. He read the newspaper and it disturbed him a great deal. The battleship really disturbed him, the Arizona [Annotator's Note: USS Arizona (BB-39)], and the number of men buried in the water with it for no real purpose. He continued to work and go to school. His friends were going into the military. It was a small community and two of his friends joined the Navy. They told the Navy they wanted to be on the same ship, and they were assigned that way. The ship was one of the first that sank. He never really wanted to join but if you volunteered, you could name the length of time you wanted to be in. He got his college degree when he got out and used the G.I. Bill. He enlisted in the Army because of the length of service he could get.


Robert Lewter was inducted in Georgia. From there he got on a train to Camp Polk, Louisiana [Annotator's Note: now Fort Polk in Vernon Parish, Louisiana]. It was a challenge. His commander was tall, lanky, and tough as nails. Coming off the farm, he had not grown up easy. It was tough but not Army tough. He does not think the physical training helped him all that much in his service career. When he was going overseas, he boarded the ship and as it was leaving from San Francisco [Annotator's Note: San Francisco, California], a young man said he was too young to go. He saw the prisoners [Annotator's Note: on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay] and said he thought they were sad about them going too. They were on a large ship. A typhoon hit and a young man fell in the kitchen, hit his head on a steel table, died, and was buried at sea. They went to Yokohama [Annotator's Note: Yokohama, Japan] on 24 December 1946. They were in four man tents. Because a tent had caught fire the day before, the men were not allowed to heat their tents. It was cold. He put on all of his clothes to keep warm. They were there for 36 hours then went to Tokyo [Annotator's Note: Tokyo, Japan] with the 8th Cavalry [Annotator's Note: 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division]. [Annotator's Note: There is a lot of back and forth with the interviewer supplying the information for Lewter.] Lewter went on a Japanese train into Tokyo. He interacted a lot with the Japanese people. Lewter just did field training. He had a machine gun troop of eight men. They went on a three-day trip to the base of where one of the bombs had been dropped [Annotator's Note: nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945 and Nagasaki, Japan on 9 August 1945]. [Annotator's Note: Lawn equipment is heard at 0:14:21.000.] There was a lot of destruction. They were told not to go into any opening in the earth because the Japanese had bombs planted everywhere.


Robert Lewter would swap cigarettes for Japanese services. The Japanese used needles and sewed thread as straight as an arrow. They patched clothing, cleaned shoes, and provided a lot of help. He would go into Tokyo [Annotator's Note: Tokyo, Japan] and get Japanese food. He went to the Ernie Pyle Theater [Annotator's Note: originally the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater, renamed after war correspondent Ernie Pyle from 1945 to 1955] in Tokyo. One day he saw a young man who was crying. He had lied about his age to get in and was homesick. He had known him from earlier. He did not have any negative experience with any Japanese. Towards the end, he did not enjoy the country as much as he thought he would. Getting used to the military was tough. They were in a two story building that had been a Japanese manufacturing plant. He came home and got off the boat in Seattle [Annotator's Note: Seattle, Washington]. He chose to be discharged. He just wanted to get home. He got there in February [Annotator's Note: February 1946] and went to college at Middle Tennessee [Annotator's Note: Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee] on the G.I. Bill. He would not have gone otherwise. They were some of the best years of his life. He still appreciates very much what he learned in the military. He does not think Americans understand much about what he went through. He does not think he had it tough. He knows men who did have it very, very tough. He stayed in touch with a man who became a full Colonel. They met up after the war. He was a down-to-earth, honest, Christian guy. They had good memories. [Annotator's Note: A phone rings at 0:23:28.000.]

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You may receive the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only the specific clips that you requested. Please contact the Museum at if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to four weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address.