Col. (USAF) Burton E. Lewis, 92, died peacefully on February 21, 2013 at Bayou Manor Health Care Center in Houston following a stroke on February 14. He was a quintessential member of The Greatest Generation.|
Col. Lewis was born March 10, 1920 in Cherokee, Iowa, the second child of Leonard and Beatrice Lewis. His older brother Frank predeceased him. He lived on a farm in his early years. An industrious worker and a good student, he played football, sang in a quartet, and saved money from jobs to buy a Model A Roadster during high school.
He graduated from high school in 1937 and attended Iowa State College in 1940 after working three years as a paving-crew member and orderly to save the money for college. One year later, he was drafted into the United States Army Air Corps. He received training as a navigator, using dead reckoning, pilotage, celestial and radio methods. He was sent overseas after completing routine training missions and logged 77 missions over Africa, Germany and Italy during WWII. Among his numerous honors were the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 14 silver oak leaf clusters.
Discharged from the Air Force when WWII ended, Col. Lewis returned to Iowa. He married his sweetheart, Nedra Berkler, in January 1946 and immediately enrolled at the University of Minnesota where he earned a BBA in accounting in 1948. He worked fulltime during college and became a loving father to his first daughter, Pam.
After graduation, he returned to Iowa and worked for an accounting firm. He welcomed his second daughter, Lana, and was shortly recalled into military service at the beginning of the Korean War in 1951. He and Nedra appreciated many aspects of military life, and he decided to make this his career. He enjoyed work as a navigator in the Strategic Air Command (SAC), saw combat duty again during the Vietnam War and made lifelong friendships. He was a member of the Inspector General's team for the SAC and based at Offut AFB in Omaha, Nebraska from 1968 until his retirement from the USAF in 1970. He and Nedra then traveled for several months throughout Europe.
Still a young man at age 50, Col. Lewis returned to college to pursue an MBA at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth. He was admitted to the Graduate School of Business and earned a grade point average of 4.0 his first semester. He discovered that he preferred work to school and began employment in Corpus Christi with the U.S. Small Business Administration and later the U.S. Social Security Administration. He retired finally in 1985.
For the next 14 years, he and Nedra enjoyed extensive foreign and domestic travel, time with family and friends, reunions with Air Force acquaintances and an enjoyable home life that included gardening, entertaining and caring for various beloved pets. His pleasures included regular fishing trips in his boat in and around the Laguna Madre in Corpus Christi, tennis and an active exercise regimen. He grew limes and, over the years, became a consummate maker of margaritas, closely guarding his secret recipe.
After Nedra died in August 1999, Col. Lewis chose to move into Trinity Towers, a retirement community in Corpus Christi. He enjoyed an active social life and proximity to the YMCA for exercise. He moved to Houston to Bayou Manor Retirement Community near his daughter, Pam, and son-in-law, Chris, in 2007. He enjoyed his garden apartment, the view from his balcony, singing with the Choraliers and special attention from Pam. After a stroke in January, 2012 he lived in the Health Care wing of Bayou Manor. His family is grateful to his physician, nurses and other staff for their compassionate care there.
He was always a true gentleman with traits of great personal charm, dignity, kindness, humility and unwavering strength. He is survived by his children, Pamela (Chris Collins) Lewis of Bellaire, Texas and Lana (Gary) Wood of Niceville, Florida and one grandchild, Austin Wood.
Cremation has taken place, and a memorial service will be held at Bayou Manor, 4141 South Braeswood, on March 22, 2013 at 10:00 AM. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial donations to The Eddie Scurlock Stroke Center, Methodist Neurological Institute, 6560 Fannin Street, Suite 802, Houston, TX 77030 for research into cerebrovascular disease.
Published in Houston Chronicle on Mar. 17, 2013