Vernon Lewis

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Vernon Lewis smiles as he thumbs through his military scrapbook of photos.

MARSHALL, Texas -- Vernon Lewis, Jr. became the most decorated veteran from Harrison County, Texas, rising to major general, even if a career in the military wasn’t his plan.

“Hell, you don't have a plan when you're 18 years old,” Lewis said with a grin.

Lewis joined the Army for a year to get VA benefits. There was a catch.

“You agreed to be in the reserve -- the national guard or the reserve -- for five years after you got off active duty,” he explained.

In that time, the Korean War broke out. Then Sergeant Vernon Lewis had been notified that he was a candidate for officer candidate school. He knew he’d likely be activated for the war.

“I decided I'd rather do it as a Lieutenant,” Lewis said.

In late 1951, Lieutenant Vernon Lewis was in Korea. That rank made him a forward observer, calling in field artillery.

“I was scared a lot. I learned as I went. I'd been well trained to do what I was doing. Finished the war as a fire direction officer in the battalion Fire Direction Center. So I was sitting there shooting artillery at bad guys," Lewis says. "We were shooting all day all night, every day.”

Later, the first of two tours in the Vietnam War as an Army Major, and a sector advisor, fighting the Viet Cong.

“There were times in the Vietnam War when I was shooting my rifle. You do what you do because of the people around you. Not because of mother and apple pie and the US flag. You do it because of the people you're fighting with. And because the other guys fighting you. And you don't think about anything except for fight.

“When you start shooting back your fear goes away,” he added.

In all, he survived nearly 1,100 days in combat, including two shootdowns in helicopters,

“I'd say a little prayer that things would go my way and I'd say, Okay, Lord, I got it. When really He had it the whole time. And I didn't even know it,” Lewis said.

He racked up some of the highest medals, including the Distinguished Service Medal, on the way to becoming a two star general. Then at age 46, he became the youngest Army major general to retire.

But he had more work to do, founding the first of two defense sector businesses, along with seven other former high ranking officers.

“Training foreign armies made a lot more money,” Lewis said.

A picture hangs in his office of him and a line of dignitaries signing a contract to train the Bosnian Army. It was a proud achievement to take two warring factions -- the Bosnian and Croatian armies -- and turn them into allies in the fight against the Serbs -- and for democracy.

“Everyone asked us questions about how do you work for the civilians. How do you answer to them? We said well it's in our Constitution and we work for them, and you learn to do that," Lewis said.

"And how do you do it? You do it very carefully,” he added with a wry grin.

Now at age 91, retired Maj. Gen. Vernon Lewis is still busy with Christian focused volunteer work in Marshall, running the 10th Amendment Committee.

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