Thursday, May 10, 2007

Joel W. Lewis dies of injuries from I.E.D.

Spc. Joel Lewis died a hero on Sunday. The 28-year-old Barrie native was killed in a roadside bomb blast while fighting in war-torn Iraq May 6. Larry Lewis always thought of his son as a war hero, but feared for his safety constantly.

"I talked to him on Friday and, like I always do, I told him, 'Keep your head up and keep your head down,'" said Lewis.

"That meant he should be proud, but I didn't want a dead hero."

That was the last advice Lewis gave his son, who was on a six-month tour in Iraq with the United States military.

Joel was one of six soldiers with the Fort Lewis Stryker Brigade, stationed out of Washington State, blown up by a land bomb while on duty.

"His vehicle drove over a bomb and apparently it blew the truck right off the ground," said Lewis, who now lives in Bracebridge.

"You can't imagine how devastating this was for us."

Joel was born and raised in Barrie, attending Maple Grove Public School and Shanty Bay Public School.

His parents divorced when he was four years old and his brother, Justin, was two.

Joel delivered The Barrie Examiner when he was 10.

After living 15 years in Barrie, Joel and Justin moved to Florida with their mother, Gale Poindexter. But his hometown was always in his heart.

"Joel always thought of Barrie as his home," Lewis said. "He would come home from Florida to visit over the years."

Many of those visits he shared with his aunt, Lori Lewis, who still lives in Barrie.

"I had a really nice nephew, and he and I were very, very close," Lori said, her voice trembling.

"I can still see him and I taking my Yorkie for walks in the park. He grew up to be such a good-looking man, too."

Lewis remembers Joel as a go-getter who lived for the outdoors.

"He was very adventurous and loved skydiving, sailing, canoeing and scuba diving," Lewis said. "He wanted to get out there and enjoy all of life's adventures."

Fighting a war was Joel's last adventure. It was one the soldier handled as a life-and-death situation.

Ironically, Joel never feared his own death. His biggest fear was contributing to the death of others.

"He called my once and said, 'Dad, I'm not afraid of dying myself. I worry about making a mistake and getting someone else killed,' " Lewis said, his voice breaking.

"He carried a rifle to go to the bathroom, so he knew how dangerous it was there (Iraq). But he was counting the days to come home, and that never happened."

Joel's mother, who lives in Oklahoma, said she is trying to cope with her son's death.

"I have good hours and bad hours, but the memories just keep flooding back," said Gale.

"We were a very close-knit family, and losing my son is such a tragic loss."

The news has Lewis losing sleep.

"I wake up at night and try not to think about losing my son," Lewis said.

"But nothing else consumes my mind like this does. His brother is also taking Joel's death very hard."

"Losing him is like having a piece of my heart ripped out," said his aunt. "He had so much life ahead of him, and it seems like such a waste of a life."

But the family takes comfort in knowing Joel fought courageously for a free Iraq.

He is among 3,738 U.S. fatalities so far in the Iraq war.

"All the stars lined up for him to be there fighting," Lewis said. "He was overseas to do a duty and he gave the ultimate sacrifice for the cause."

From the Barrie Examiner