Saturday, September 14, 2013

K. R. "Lew" Lewis: Ladies in Wartime, 1917-1919

Pvt. K. R. Lewis
  Other young men fought and died in the trenches of Verdun.  For Lew, a California farm boy, military service was a social and romantic adventure.  By a stroke of good fortune, he got to see New York and Virginia, stayed well out of harm’s way, and met many young ladies.  He remembered them all, saving the photos they gave him, along with the pictures he took during the war.[1]

Elva (center), her sister (left), and mother, chaperones on
an outing to the coast with Lew
Before entering the service, Lew had been working for a fruit farmer near Sonoma, California, and courting Elva McCollum.  He was twenty-four; she was seventeen, lovely, and talented.  She was smitten. Lew was her first love.  Elva believed that if he hadn’t gone off to war, she and Lew would have married.[2]  On Tuesday, 5 June 1917, Lew registered for the draft.[3]  He had plans to continue his bachelorhood.

  Private K. R. Lewis joined Company C, 12th Infantry, U. S. Army and trained at Camp Fremont near Menlo Park, California.[4]  On 22 October 1918, Lew’s company boarded the Southern Pacific for the east coast before shipping out to France.  There were other ladies to woo, all across the U. S.  On the trip from California to New York, Lew couldn’t help noticing: “Right across from where I was [exercising] there was two girls[.]  one certainly was full of pep.  she had a pretty smile and beautiful hair  she sang three songs about soldiers and say they certainly were sweet.”[5]  That was on day two, and there were more ladies to come.

Grace Smith, New York
Grace  Company C was stationed at Camp Mills on Long Island, New York, for just over a month.[6]  During that time Lew struck up an acquaintance with a local gal, Grace Smith, whose address he noted in his journal.  He may have met her while out on pass, and they continued a relationship through photos sent through the mail.  Lew, it would turn out, was a good pen pal.

  There were other, unnamed, ladies in New York, too, and moments of spontaneous flirting and closeness.

  In November 1918, despite rumors of a German surrender, Company C packed up daily to go overseas, then unpacked again each night.  On 11 November the armistice was signed, and there was no need to go.  When Company C finally boarded a troop ship, they traveled south to the Army Supply Base in Norfolk, Virginia.[7]   Lew spent the remainder of his service working in the military post office there.  He was the first to know who got mail and who sent it.  Sometimes there was a letter or card for him from Betty.

Lew in the post office, Norfolk

Jeanette "Betty" Richofsky
“Betty”   Jeanette Richofsky of Richmond, California, immigrated to the U. S. from Hungary as a child. [8]  At age eighteen, she reinvented herself as “Betty,” used a friend’s address, and carried on a three-month correspondence in 1919 with Lew.  They probably never met, although “Betty’s” letter is familiar:[9]

            I received your letter on the 7th and was awfully glad to hear from you so soon.  My but it was a sweet.  I was awfully glad because I was so lonesome but I felt better after Postie came.  Dearie I sent you some postals.  Did you get them? ... Oh dearie I am awfully lonesome here.  I have no one to say sweet things to me like you say in your letters.  I wish you meant it.  I am glad you said you would like to see me personally because I thought my pictures scared you so that you would even be afraid to write anymore.  I am sending you a bit of my hair so you can judge for yourself whether I am blounde [sic] or not.  So you will not ask me if I like to lie once in a while.  Dearie I forgive you for that.  Must Close
                                                Your doll
                                                            Betty x plus 1000001
  The brief fling through letters provided excitement for both the flirtatious teenager and the flirtatious soldier.

  There were many other ladies in Lew’s photo collection, some with names, some unknown.  One wrote on her photo, “Your darling Genevieve,” but she may not have been Lew’s darling for long.  The next summer, 1920, he was back in Sonoma County, working in the orchards, and saving money for his own place.[10]  He drove his Model T out of the farmer’s garage where it had been stored, ready to take the next lady for a drive.  No more letters and photos; now he could pursue the ladies in person.
"Your darling Genevieve"

Lew in his 1917 or 1918 Model T Ford 

Genealogical Summary
  Kandido R. “Lew” Lewis, son of Candido Luis and Rosa Azevedo, was born 12 August 1893 in Jewell, Marin County, California.[11]  On 3 July 1932 he married Essie Jane Elizabeth Stewart at the Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo, Marin County.[12]  He died in Napa, Napa County, California, 20 August 1984.[13]  Lew and Essie had no children.

[1] K. R. “Lew” Lewis photo collection, ca. 1915 to early 1930s, about 350 photos; in possession of the author.  Alice Streeter Kellar, Lew’s niece, received his trunk and the photo collection from his widow Essie (Stewart) Lewis about 1994.  The photos passed to Alice's daughter Judy Kellar Fox on Alice’s passing in 2004.  The photos have been digitized and provide these illustrations.
[2] Velda Draper (Elva’s granddaughter), San Rafael, California, to Judy Kellar Fox, email, 4 December 2012, “Elva McCollum, yes yes”; files of the author.
[3] United States, Selective Service System, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, California, Sonoma County, arranged alphabetically by surname, for Kandido Lewis; Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), micropublication M1509; Family History Library (FHL) microfilm 1,544,406.
[4] K. R. Lewis photograph, fall 1918, from K. R. “Lew” Lewis photo collection; files of Judy Kellar Fox.  The photo, 2 1/2” x 3 1/4”, is inscribed (recto), “ Camp Mills, L[ong]. I[sland]. N. Y.,” and (verso), “Pvt. K. R. Lewis, Co. C. 12th Inf.”  Also, United States, Army, Twelfth Infantry, Twelfth U. S. Infantry, 1798-1919: Its Story—By Its Men (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1919), 366.
[5] K. R. Lewis, travel journal recounting his trip by troop train from Camp Fremont, California, to Camp Mills, New York, 22-30 October 1918; Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa, California.  Transcription made by Judy Kellar Fox in 1994 before her mother, Alice Streeter Kellar, donated the journal to the Museum.  All spelling, punctuation, and grammar are as written by K. R. Lewis.
[6] Twelfth U. S. Infantry, 1798-1919: Its Story—By Its Men, 147.
[7] Ibid., 150.
[8] Katka56 [Kathi, Farrell], comp., “Lucas Hall Family Tree 2013,” ( : accessed 2 September 2013), entry for Jeanette A. Richofsky (1901-1970), citing Jeanette’s passport.
[9] Betty [Jeanette Richofsky] (1321 Clinton Ave., Richmond, Cal.), to Mr. Kenn Lewis (Co C. 12th Inf, Army Supply Base, No 3652008, Norfolk, Va.), letter, 8 February 1918, 1, 4.  The letter, inherited by Lew’s niece Alice Streeter Kellar and passed to her daughter Judy Kellar Fox, has been forwarded to “Betty’s” granddaughter Kathi Farrell, Durham, California.  Letter and photo used by permission.
[10] 1920 U. S. Census, Sonoma County, California, population schedule, Sonoma, ED 162, sheet 2A, dwelling 29, family 3, Frederick A. Lowell household, line 15; digital image, ( : accessed 3 September 2013); from NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 150.
[11] Marin County, California, Delayed Certificate of Birth no. 098589 (1957), Kandido Rufus Lewis; County Recorder, San Rafael; FHL microfilm 1,295,780, item 5.  Also, 1900 U.S. Census, Marin County, California, population schedule, Tomales Township, ED 63, sheets 1-2 (penned), dwelling 16, family 16, C. Lewis household; digital image, ( accessed 3 September 2013); from NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 93.
[12] Marin County, California, Marriage License no. 4175[?] (1932), Kandido R. Lewis-Essie Jane Elizabeth Stewart; Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk, San Rafael.
[13] Kandido R. "Lew" Lewis, funeral card, 23 August 1984, printed by an unidentified Napa, California, mortuary; photocopy in possession of the author.  Also, Tulocay Cemetery (Napa, California), Kandido R. Lewis marker; photographed by Jack J. or Alice M. Kellar, 1980s; photocopy in possession of the author.

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