Born: April 5, 1923
Hometown: Oswego, New York
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: February 20, 1942 / 38N, 78W
Date / Place of burial: February 20, 1942 / Lost at Sea —
Richard E. Lewis signed on as Deck Cadet aboard the SS Azalea City at New York, NY on the day the United States began combat in World War II, December 7, 1941. Also joining him was his class mate Cadet-Midshipman Robert See, the Engine Cadet. Two months later, on February 12, 1942, the freighter SS Azalea City left the island of Trinidad, en route from Bahia Blanca, Argentina to Philadelphia, PA with a cargo of flax seed. The vessel, with a crew of 38 was traveling alone and not zig-zagging. When the Azalea City failed to arrive in Philadelphia after several months, the ship was presumed lost, though its exact fate remained a mystery.
The details of the loss were discovered after World War II in the records of the German Navy. On February 20, 1942 U-432 sited the Azalea City about 125 miles east south- east from Ocean City, Maryland. Over several hours U-432 fired three torpedoes at the Azalea City, two of which struck the ship. For some reason the ship was unable to send a distress signal after the first torpedo struck the ship and the crew did not abandon ship. Apparently the ship capsized immediately after the second torpedo hit, taking all hands with it, including Cadet-Midshipmen Robert See and Richard Lewis. These men were the first two Academy cadets killed through enemy action. However, due to the nature of the disaster, their fate remained unknown for months, and Cadet-Midshipman Howard P. Conway was mourned at the Academy as the first Cadet to give his life in service of his country.
Cadet-Midshipman Richard E. Lewis was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.
Richard E. Lewis was the only child of Henry M. Lewis and Edith M. Lewis. Although the 1930 U.S. Census identifies Henry Lewis as a real estate and insurance salesman by the 1940 Census his occupation was listed as a gate keeper for a construction company.
photo of SS Azalea City