In a military town like Sierra Vista, interacting with a veteran or service member is a daily experience for many residents, whether at work, in the grocery store, or just talking to a neighbor. And Jim Lewis, an 85-year-old United States Marine Corp veteran, does not let these chance encounters pass by him without taking the chance to do good.
Wherever he goes, Lewis brings a cardholder with him filled with business card-sized notes that read on one side, “Thank You for your service!” and on the other, “Dear American Service Member, Words cannot describe how grateful and appreciative I am to you for the sacrifices you make for our country and our freedom. To Me — You are a Patriot. —A U.S.M.C Korea Veteran”
When he encounters an active or retired member of the military, Lewis is sure to let them know in his own way how much he respects them. “Every time I see a car with a veteran license plate on it, I’m going to leave the card there on the windshield. I’ve had a few people run after me in a market to say ‘thank you’ too,” he explained.
“It’s my way of trying to thank all of these veterans and people in uniform, it’s so pleasant to see the reaction of a lot of these people.”
Having served himself, Lewis has a real appreciation for those who are willing to put their country before themselves.
Lewis joined the Marine Corp when he was 18 years old and served from 1952-54, finishing the rest of his contracted five years in the Reserves with the Marine Aircraft Group 13 before leaving to take care of his dad.
Taking over his dad’s engineering and construction company for a while, Indiana-born Lewis went on to follow a wide variety of careers, including acting as a police officer in Phoenix, working as a Hollywood detective, spending some time with a law firm, and even living in Tubac as a cowboy when his father moved to Arizona to start a ranch.
However, Lewis was primarily known in the engineering world. Learning everything from his dad after finishing high school, Lewis worked with automotive groups and was in high demand with different companies and as a speaker at different organizations, and even helped rewrite several major codes and handbooks for electrical engineers.
“I was the primary speaker at AFEEC (Asean Federation of Electrical Engineering Contractors) conventions in the Middle East,” he recalls about the 1981 and 1983 conventions. “I was the first American and the first American company who was invited to be part of that.”
Lewis met his wife, Vicky, later while working in Detroit, and after being married for over 30 years and having travelled the world, the pair have loved living in Sierra Vista since they moved here in 2005.
“This as a town is unique,” he noted, admiring the people of the community and that “the people around here do appreciate them a lot.” With the amount of military presence in the area, Lewis is given plenty of opportunity to show his appreciation in his own simple way and believes that all citizens should do what they can to serve the service members.
He describes that the reaction he gets from those he gives cards to is what confirms that he is doing a good thing in approaching them. He has countless stories about how appreciative service members are to be recognized, or how giving a card can lead to a veteran telling a story he or she was eager and excited to share.
“I get a lot of satisfaction about it, knowing that I touched someone’s heart. As long as I can do something like that, I’m going to do it and nothing’s going to stop me.”
While many local events throughout the year offer residents a chance to support the military, Lewis challenges people to incorporate their appreciation into their everyday lives. Though people can be nervous about approaching an active or retired service member even if they want to show their appreciation, Lewis explains that it should help to know that they can make a difference to someone who is struggling or has sacrificed.
“It’s so gratifying to see the response, and I wish a lot more people would do it, but I think some people are afraid to approach them.” Lewis suggests that there are many ways to express gratitude, and that maybe something as simple as passing a card could be easier for some people than talking. “Everyone can do it,” he encourages.
Although it is a small act, Lewis knows that any little act he does will help him honor the country he loves. “I’m happy that I can live in a free country and be free,” he says.
“And there are so many nice people in this country. I think there’s people out there who might want to do something like this too. I can understand if they’re hesitant; it struck me that maybe I’m going a little too far, but when I saw the outcome, it made me think, ‘Ok, I did the right thing.’ I enjoy it, I have a real great sense of humility from doing things like that.”