1.29.2005

Brotherly Bond Never Broken

The Herald Journal - 2.9.04

Loyd Lewis lay on the battlefield of Iwo Jima in February 1945, bullets flying from every direction and bombs falling from above. So he played possum.

The deception of keeping completely still was the 19-year-old Marine's best chance of surviving the chaotic six-day battle where Japanese troops would pop out of hidden tunnels guns ablaze, or run kamikaze into the foxholes of American troops. It was also the natural reaction to having so much blood flowing from his head that he couldn't see.

"I thought I was dead," said Lewis, "except I could still think."

Thinking was all the teenager from rural Preston had ever needed to contact the person that had been closest to him throughout his young life.

Mere thoughts kept Lewis "unnaturally" in touch with the boy he had ridden mules, played football and worked the farm with growing up; the teenager who enrolled in the military alongside Lewis in 1942; the man that was sharing the foxhole Lewis had just been blown out of; and his best friend -- his identical twin brother, Boyd.

"This is where we communicated," said Lewis, now 78, tapping the thin gray hair on his temple that is still buzzed down to the bone like a true Marine. "We could talk without saying a word."

Except for that moment, seconds after a World War II-era mortar known as a Whistling Willy had landed in the dirty hole the brothers shared that afternoon.

"I tried to tune him in, and I had no answer."

It was the furthest from his brother Lewis had ever felt.

Before the twins were born, the doctor claimed he could only hear one heartbeat, until a pair of 7.5-pound 21-inch boys came out. When they were sent to work on different farms at age 11, Lewis left his job at lunchtime because he missed his brother, and met Boyd walking toward him, halfway between the farms. When military officials attempted to separate the twins to prevent the Lewis family the potential trauma of losing two sons in the same battle, they discovered the iron will that joined Loyd and Boyd.

"You guys are so identical," Lewis said the officer finally admitted after the brothers had lobbied to stay together. "If one dies, the other would die of heartbreak. So both of you might as well get your asses shot off.

"We were born with it, how can I explain it?"

As the fire slowed on Iwo Jima that afternoon in 1946, Lewis looked back toward the foxhole and didn't see Boyd. He looked around the immediate area, but saw nothing but body parts and a helmet strewn on the ground.

In the helmet -- Lewis recalled last week, his voice choked and his blue eyes red, as a thin tear streaked down his cheek from behind a pair glasses -- was Boyd's head.

When the battlefield calmed, Lewis collected what he could of his closest friend -- pieces of arms, a leg, the helmet -- and wrapped them in a poncho. He slung the sack on his back and brought it to the makeshift medic unit on the island.

"I've got my brother," he told a doctor, who chided him for wasting precious time and asked what Lewis really had in the pack.

So he unrolled the poncho that he would soon lay to rest in a hole he dug on Iwo Jima.

"That's my brother."

Though he had the strength to bury his brother, and fight "with hate" through the next day, Lewis wasn't sure at how much further he could go.

In battle the next day, Lewis fell on a live grenade that was thrown at a group of Americans. While perhaps recognized as courage at that moment, Lewis now admits the move was a better indication of the pain he was harboring than his bravery.

"I wanted to die," he said. "I thought it would be the coward's way out. After my brother died, half of my world died. Most of me died with him."

The grenade ripped through his midsection -- "right here" he said, running a hand along his belt -- tearing through his colon and urinary tract. The injuries pulled him out of combat, and through military hospitals in Saipan, Pearl Harbor, San Francisco and Seattle over the rest of the year.

He fought doctors along the way, tore IVs from his veins out of frustration and argued against treatment he needed. But Lewis survived, and after he received a blessing from an LDS hospital chaplain, the will to live was renewed.

"He told me I would live, and that the Lord had a purpose for me to stay alive," said Lewis. "I wanted to come home then, I wanted to come home."

Back in Preston by late 1946, he declined a military official's suggestion to live on disability payments from the government for the rest of his life, and went to work with his father and another brother on a farm. He went back to high school and finished the degree he abandoned four years earlier. He eventually taught school in his hometown of Preston, the job that led him to Arimo, Idaho, where he met his future wife, Fern, at a basketball game.

But while a cane for partial paralysis and two bags strapped to his legs for bowel movements were the visible changes, there was much more change that others, even the 21-year-old Lewis' new wife, couldn't understand.

"The night dreams for years went on," said Lewis, who would thrash in his sleep when haunted by memories, so much that Fern often would have to leave the bed to sleep safely.

One morning, he awoke to Fern nursing a black eye, which he had unknowingly given her during a traumatic flashback.

He took long horseback rides by himself to deal with the pain during those years, and even joined a boxing team to relieve some frustration. However, the memories were always simmering just under the surface, and pushed his wife and family away for years, said Lewis.

"I loved her, still love her, but I still had this feeling ..." he said, and trailed off as the memories flooded back. "She started to realize what that was, to be an identical twin."

Until about nine years ago, Fern had never heard the complete story of Boyd's death. Their six children never totally knew the death their father had seen. Even his only son, who Lewis still rides horses and hunts with, just as he and his brother did while growing up in Idaho, never knew how important the relationship between father and son was to Lewis.

"He honors me like a father, and treats me like a best buddy," said Lewis, and pointed to a series of framed photos the proud father posts from their excursions.

"Do you know what his name is?" Lewis asks, though the crack in his voice and the tears welled up in his eyes give away the answer.

"Boyd."

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