Family, Friends Remember N.Y. Soldier Killed in Iraq

Staff Sgt. Dwayne Lewis of New York was hit by insurgent gunfire and killed last month while on patrol with is Army unit. Lewis moved to New York from Granada when he was nine. His family says he was ready to risk his life for his adopted country. Kathleen Horan of member station WNYC reports.

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In Queens, New York this week, family and friends of Staff Sgt. Dwayne Lewis said their goodbyes. Lewis was in Iraq with the Army's 10th mountain division when he was killed last month. He was hit by insurgent gunfire. Lewis was born in Grenada but moved to New York when he was nine. Those who knew him say Lewis was fun loving but ready to risk his life for his adopted country.

Kathleen Horan of member station WNYC has this remembrance.

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KATHLEEN HORAN: His family stood in the doorway after the service, clutching the folded American flags they were given, and watched in disbelief as the simple wooden coffin was carried away by the soldier pallbearers. His father, Ian Lewis, says it helps to remember some of the best times they shared together, like Dwayne's first winter in New York.

IAN LEWIS: One of the fondest memories of like the first time he see snow, he was like, wow. He was like a pig in mud. The first time he see snow, he went, he'd roll, he'd run, take his coat off and roll in the snow. It was fun watching him play in that snow.

HORAN: Ian Lewis says his son's exuberance extended to many things like hip-hop music and being near the women who helped to raise him.

LEWIS: He loved baking, you know, making pastries, a lot of things like that — very helpful to his aunts and grandmother.

HORAN: When Dwayne was little he collected comic book trading cards. His favorite characters were called Sabertooth and Wolverine.

LEWIS: He always think he was Wolverine always flexing his muscle — grrr, I'm Sabertooth, I'm Wolverine. He was like that.

HORAN: In some ways Lewis resembled those brawny fictional heroes, but Staff Sgt. Victor Grady, who was a platoon leader with Lewis in both Afghanistan and Iraq, says Lewis's muscular frame and 19 inch arms weren't the most surprising thing about him. It was his ability to put other people's needs first. Like when their food packs fell off the side of a 4,000 foot mountain in Afghanistan and only Lewis and Grady still had their food rations.

VICTOR GRADY: He looks at me and he says, you know, you know what we have to do, you know, and yeah, I was looking at him and I'm like, I don't think so, you know, no, no. Now what do we have to do? And he says, yeah, well we gotta give our food to the soldiers. He was just selfless. He would give himself more than anyone I've known.

HORAN: Grady says it was around that time he and Lewis made a bittersweet promise to each other.

GRADY: We made an agreement with each other back whenever we first went to Afghanistan that if Lewis was the one to pass before I was, I would speak at his funeral and if I was the one that passed, he would come speak at mine and we always said we couldn't think of anybody else we would want to stand up, you know, and say something.

HORAN: Instead, Grady stammered and shook at Lewis's funeral, barely able to get the words out. But later at the family's house when they asked him if Lewis spoke of them and if their Dwaynee was happy, he was able to tell them yes.

For NPR News, I'm Kathleen Horan in New York.

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