LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Like many African American soldiers returning from military service in World War 2, a Lake Charles man faced a different world when he got back to Southwest Louisiana. Noah Lewis served in the Sea bees.
"Our motto was 'can do'" said Lewis. "I don't care what it was, we would do it. We figured out a way to do it. Things they said couldn't be done, we did it."
There were more than 12,000 African Americans serving in the Navy’s Sea bee units during World War II, and Lake Charles’ Noah Lewis was one of them.
“The Sea bees were more or less a construction battalion. We built bridges, houses, Quonset huts and also loaded and unloaded ships.”
Lewis was stationed in Guam, where his crew helped extend the runway to accommodate B-29 bombers.
"We had to extend the runway for the B-29 that was to bomb Hiroshima. We had to do 1500 feet, which was the equivalent of 3 blocks."
When he came back from the war, Lewis faced difficulties when he sought work related to his Sea bee training.
"I was really hurt about it because I assumed after I came out that I would be able to do what I did in the service. but I found out it was very different. Certain jobs were for certain class of people. Mostly white."
Lewis will talk about his experiences during the war and the challenges he faced when he returned in a special panel discussion on Thursday, September 5 at McNeese State University in Tritico Theater. The city of Lake Charles and McNeese will present "World War II’s impact on Southwest Louisiana with panelists sharing first-hand accounts of what it was like to live through that period. Admission is free.