As Pearl Harbor Day nears, a daughter remembers a father's ordeal

jwarren@herald-leader.comDecember 6, 2011 

Carol Fischer's father, George Lewis, was at Pearl Harbor, but the Navy sent him elsewhere shortly before the Japanese attack.

The place he went was just as deadly: Wake Island.

A tiny Pacific atoll about 2,000 miles west of Pearl Harbor, Wake was a prime target when war came. And Lewis, only 17, was right in the bull's-eye.

Japanese planes bombed Wake Island just hours after Pearl Harbor was hit. But Wake is located across the International Date Line, so the attack there officially occurred on Dec. 8, 1941.

Lewis and about 1,800 other sailors, Marines and civilian construction workers found themselves cut off, with essentially no hope of rescue. They fought for 14 days, beating back one Japanese landing attempt, sinking two enemy ships and destroying 28 planes. A 1942 movie, Wake Island, celebrated their bravery.

After Wake was captured, Lewis and most of the other men were shipped off to a succession of prisoner-of-war camps in Korea, China and Japan. For almost four years, Lewis' family in Dubuque, Iowa, didn't know whether he was dead or alive.

Carol Fischer, who now lives in Garrard County, learned her father's story from his twin sister.

"She was the only one who could tell me," Fischer said. "My mother and my grandfather were never really able to talk about it."

Fischer said her father was an avid outdoorsman and hunter, nicknamed "Buck" because he could mimic the sound of a deer.

Some years ago, after a long and emotional search, Fischer located two Wake survivors in California who had been prisoners with her father. From them she learned what he'd endured.

You see, Fischer never knew her father.

When George Lewis returned home after the war, he met and married Zita Mae Hass, and they had a son. But after surviving Wake Island and years of POW brutality, Lewis was killed in a traffic accident in 1947. His 10-month-old baby son also died, as did Lewis' brother, also a Navy veteran.

"The only one who survived was my mother, who was four months pregnant with me," Carol Fischer said.

Now, Fischer keeps her father's memory alive, preserving his old letters and military records, making sure her children and stepchildren know what he did.

"I always think of him around Pearl Harbor, Veterans Day and Memorial Day," she said. "As I get older, the more I appreciate how special he was."

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