Posted On:11/14/2010 11:47pm
Graydon ‘Cub’ Lewis finds salvation through martial arts
By Seth Koenig, Times Record Staff
BRUNSWICK — “Case, the train is coming.” It was Dec. 10, 1973. Graydon “Cub” Lewis and his friend Richard Case were soldiers stationed near Fayetteville, N.C. Case was wandering on the downtown railroad tracks as the 11:45 p.m. Sea Coast Line whistle sounded in the distance.
“I said, ‘Case, the train is coming,’” Lewis recalled. “He said, ‘Yup.’ You could hear the train whistle blowing. I said, ‘Case, the train is coming,’ again. He just said, ‘Yup.’ I reached for him. I just missed his fingers. I almost had him. Just before the train hit him, he looked right at me and said, ‘F it.’ He decided he didn’t want to live any more.”
Then there was Wayne Brown. His parachute didn’t open during a training jump.
“He hit the ground and bounced like a rubber ball,” Lewis said. “He had blood coming out of the pores of his skin and face. He told me, ‘I’ll be OK.’ They said he died two days later in the hospital, but I swore he died right there in front of me.”
And Ray Lindsey.
“He blew his brains out,” Lewis recalled. “He was going home on Monday.”
And Truedell and Hollis.
“He said, ‘What would happen if I hung one straight up,’” said Lewis of a delusional fellow soldier who, during another training exercise, fired a mortar round straight into the sky. The mortar came down on Truedell and Hollis.
“The paper called it a miscalculation,” Lewis recalled. “But it was intentional. He was going crazy.”
The wind blew a flame thrower back on another soldier. Another one shot himself like Lindsey. Clarence Murphy was gutted with a KA-BAR military knife by a fellow soldier after a disagreement. He survived.
“A lot of my friends are dead now,” Lewis said. “It didn’t stop. It was one tragedy after another.”
Lewis was a member of the 82nd Airborne, 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry for three years. There isn’t much of a paper trail documenting the work he and his fellow soldiers did. It was all secretive and classified, and so stressful Lewis said soldiers began losing their wits, committing suicide or killing friends.
Sometimes, he said, his unit would be hurried onto a transport plane in the middle of the night and flown off to a jungle location somewhere several hours away. Oftentimes, he and his fellow soldiers weren’t told what country they were in when they arrived.
“The public didn’t even know about us,” Lewis said. “It took me 14 years to substantiate any of this.”
Today, Cub Lewis, 56, a black belt, runs a dojo at 400 Pleasant Hill Road called Brunswick Shotokan Karate.
A bad case of post traumatic stress disorder scattered his life through much of the 1970s and 1980s, during which time he opened and closed several karate and plumbing businesses.
Now, with two teenaged daughters and a dojo on his own rural property, he’s settled and hoping to teach more people about the martial art he believes has kept him alive.
“It’s not about the bucks,” Lewis told a reporter from The Times Record. “It’s about changing people’s lives. I’m a living example. I should be dead. I think this school’s worth coming to and finding out what it’s like.”
He said he has plans to reintroduce a light-hearted karate program there for preschoolers, as well as a less demanding program for teens and adults who don’t want the military-style training Lewis has built a reputation for.
But the sensei will keep the strenuous — almost punishing — program for those looking to take their training to the next level, he said. In any case, he teaches honor, respect and restraint to all of his students.
Some of the students currently taking part in his program are battling forms of autism, and Lewis said they’re welcomed with open arms.
“We’re a dojo family,” he said. “We’re going to sweat together and we’re going to hurt together. It doesn’t matter what disability you have.”
A haunting past
There was Richard Case. So close he could almost touch him.
“The train is coming, Case.”
The rumbling and rattling of the oncoming train consumed Lewis. It barreled into Case. Again.
Lewis felt a tug on his hand. It was 1994 and he was in Old Orchard Beach with his nearly 4-year-old daughter, Natasha.
They were by the train tracks, and the coastal Maine honky tonk had disappeared. It was replaced by a flashback to that Dec. 10, 1973, day.
Most of the deaths Lewis witnessed in his days with the Army came on American soil. Top secret soldiers deprived of sleep, working so hard and using experimental equipment. It was a recipe for disaster, he said.
“We were expendable,” Lewis said. “They couldn’t care less what happened to us. They just wanted something done and we were to do it. We were very well trained, but we were also exhausted.”
Sometimes the new equipment worked well. Other times it didn’t.
“We didn’t know if these parachutes were going to open when we jumped out of the planes,” he said. “But that’s the kind of unit we were.”
Cub Lewis scanned the crowd of American civilians through the scope of his M14 rifle. He was stationed on the roof of a nearby building during the presidential inauguration of Richard Nixon in 1973. He was there as a sniper to prevent anybody threatening an assassination of the president, but he was daydreaming of payback.
The inauguration celebration was a four-day process, and during a previous day’s event, Lewis and his fellow soldiers were lined up in a horsehoe, facing Nixon as he spoke.
“People were throwing rocks and bottles at us, calling us ‘murderers’ and ‘baby killers,’” Lewis said. “This was my first interaction with the public in a long time.”
The soldiers were told to stand and face the president regardless of what the anti-Vietnam protesters were doing. So they absorbed the insults, physical and verbal. A protester urinated on one of Lewis’ fellow soldiers.
So when he got his chance to stare them down from the roof during the inauguration, he was praying for an excuse to pull the trigger.
“I would have blown them away in a heartbeat,” he said. “I was so angry. I thought I had been doing what I was supposed to be doing — protecting our country.”
Cub Lewis has never been to Vietnam. Or at least that’s what the official Army position was for a long time. Lewis has had to contact retired officers and scour old, obscure military documents and newspaper articles to piece together a record of what he did in the Army.
He has a stack of faded and photocopied papers now that corroborate his memories.
Lewis was trained to use a new anti-tank weapon called the Tube-launched Optically-tracked Wire-guided (TOW) missile. He said he was told to take the patches off his uniform so he couldn’t be easily identified, and right up until his unit boarded a transport plane along with some TOWs, “they told us we weren’t going anywhere.”
But they were going to Vietnam to train South Vietnamese soldiers to use the TOW missiles against their North Vietnamese and Viet Cong enemies.
“In 1972, Nixon said, ‘No more troops to Vietnam,’” Lewis said. “But we went over there. We weren’t supposed to be over there. There were protests going on back home. Nixon said, ‘No more troops,’ but he was sending more troops. I don’t think the public would have been happy had they known that.”
Salvation through martial arts
In late 1973, Sgt. Talitonu Savaaetasi, from American Samoa, joined Lewis’ unit.
“We became very good friends,” Lewis recalled. “He knew I was a mess. I was drinking like a fish. I just wanted to forget it all.”
Lewis discovered Savaaetasi was a black belt in karate and asked for lessons. As a youngster years earlier in Brunswick, Lewis had turned to judo training to help overcome a broken home and sexual abuse growing up.
The training hadn’t kept him from turning to heavy alcohol use by the age of 13, or from being chased out of his mother’s home and forced to sleep in the crawl space over a nearby garage during his high school years.
“I had sores all over my legs,” Lewis said of the months he lived over the garage. “I didn’t take any baths for three or four weeks sometimes. I had no place to take them.”
After driving drunk and crashing a car on Route 196 one night, nearly killing a female passenger, a judge told Lewis to get his life in order. So he joined the Army.
And it was in the Army that he met Savaaetasi, who ultimately agreed to train Lewis in karate.
“Wherever we went, we’d train,” Lewis said. “We could be in the jungle or outside somewhere and we’d train. It was very unorthodox.”
Now, years later, there’s a picture of Savaaetasi, who tragically drowned in 2000, hanging at Lewis’ dojo. He credits Savaaetasi for pulling him through the final stretch of his Army service and giving him life-saving counsel in the decades afterward.
Lewis now wants to be that listening ear and disciplined teacher for others.
The path from Army service to Brunswick Shotokan Karate was a bumpy one. Lewis struggled with post traumatic stress disorder, drinking and respiratory trouble he said was caused by exposure to Agent Orange. He moved around a lot in the 1970s and 1980s, unable to settle down in any one community for long.
“(A Veterans Affairs counselor) told me, ‘You’re not adjusting very well to civilian life,’” Lewis recalled. “I said, ‘Of course not, I’m a trained killer.’”
But that was decades ago now. He hasn’t touched a drink since 1987, and when the urge comes to run away again, he goes to the dojo and trains. And the urge dissipates. He said if martial arts can help him, it can help almost anybody.
Lewis still doesn’t like having his back turned to people or against windows. He still gets anxious.
“I go into a dark theater and I’m uneasy,” he said. “Everybody looks so relaxed. I don’t know what that’s like. I wish I could go back in time and feel what that’s like.”
While not so much focused on martial arts, I think this story is pretty wild for a comfy suburbanite like myself. I'm glad his life is on the up
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