MORRIS – Nearly 70 years ago, during the throes of World War II, Pfc. Lew Y. June of Morris died in battle after throwing himself onto a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers.
Although June’s sacrifice was never officially recorded or recognized, the legacy of his death lived on, lodged in the memory of fellow Pfc. Frank Romano who witnessed June’s heroic act. Romano would never forget June, the man who saved his and several other lives that day.
Several years later, David Gilbert, a member of the 103rd Infantry Division World War II Association, heard Romano’s story about June and resolved to recognize the former Morris resident. He wrote a memoir of Romano’s memories of June’s heroic actions.
“The last Congressional Medal of Honor they awarded was to a young man who did exactly what Lew June did – he fell on a grenade to save his friends,” Gilbert said. “But Lew June has never been recognized for his sacrifice and bravery.”
To ensure June’s actions are remembered, Gilbert wrote a short, historically-accurate memoir titled “Overlooked Valor” that reconstructs the events of Jan. 18, 1945, when June laid down his life, and hopes to give it to any surviving family members.
The trouble is, finding June’s family has proved difficult. So Gilbert is turning to Morris residents for help.
After requesting June’s military records, Gilbert discovered he was a Chinese-American who had a Morris address – 118 Washington St. – at the time of his enlistment. Also included in the records were the names of his father, Lew C. Hong, and brother, Lew Yee Pon.
Originally, June’s body was buried by the Germans, but was later recovered by the U.S. military and sent home for a burial at Rock Island National Cemetery. By the time of his burial in 1948, June’s family had moved to Chicago.
Armed with a few names and a former address, the infantry association’s treasurer, Patricia Lofthouse, traveled to Chicago to track down any living family members.
She contacted the Pritzger Military Library, Chinatown American Legion Post, Chinese-American Museum and Chinese-American Newspaper, but never found June’s relatives.
The association organized a Memorial Day weekend trip to Gainesville, Texas, where the base of the 103rd infantry is located. In 2006, a monument was built on the base to honor those who died, including June.
Lofthouse said 96 of the 103rd infantry family members and veterans are planning to tour the base and lay wreathes at the wall. She said they wanted to invite June’s family to the trip so they could commemorate his bravery.
“We just want to bring attention to his life and his death, because so many Asian-Americans fought in that war, but received absolutely no recognition,” Lofthouse said.
Even though the family will not make the Memorial Day celebration, Lofthouse and Gilbert are hoping any Morris residents with information about June will reach out to them.
“We want to make sure his family knows and his name is not forgotten,” Gilbert said. “If we could find a surviving brother or cousin, that would be wonderful.”
Anyone with information about Lew June is encouraged to contact:
• Patricia Lofthouse: firstname.lastname@example.org
• David Gilbert: email@example.com