Buddy Lewis was a baseball star who became a war hero. He was one of the best players in the game before he went into the service. He was a five-tool player. He could hit, hit with power, run, field and throw. He was also a gentleman, a great competitor, and a great friend. He played for the Washington Senators from 1935 to 1949, with a four-year hiatus during World War II. He had a career batting average of .297 and was selected to three All-Star Games. He was inducted into the Washington Nationals Ring of Honor in 2010.
But Lewis was more than just a baseball player. He was also a transport pilot in the China-Burma-India theater during World War II. He flew over 400 missions over the Himalayas, a dangerous route known as the Hump, to deliver supplies and personnel to the Allied forces in China. He faced many dangers and adventures, such as bad weather, enemy fighters, and mechanical failures. He also had some memorable experiences, such as meeting General Claire Chennault, playing baseball with fellow pilots, and carrying a cake of cocaine in his pocket as a survival tool.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze stars for his service. He recalled his experience as a transport pilot: “I was scared to death every time I went over the Hump. You never knew what was going to happen. The weather was terrible. The radio was unreliable. The navigation was primitive. The planes were overloaded. The engines were unreliable. The Japanese were shooting at you. It was a nightmare.”
He returned to baseball in 1945 and played until 1949, when he retired due to a back injury. He later became the president of a car dealership and a philanthropist. He gave back to his community with generosity and kindness. He was a role model for generations of baseball fans and players. He died in 2011 at the age of 94. His son, Buddy Lewis Jr., spoke at his funeral: “He was the best man I ever knew. He was my father, my mentor, my friend. He taught me everything I know about life, business and baseball. He was always there for me, no matter what. He was a legend, but he was also a humble and gracious man. He loved his family, his country and his sport. He was a true American hero.”
Buddy Lewis was a baseball star who became a war hero. He was a hero on and off the field. He served his country with honor and distinction. He played the game with passion and skill. He was a legend, but he was also a humble and gracious man. He was Buddy Lewis.
– Buddy Lewis: The Ballplayer Who Flew the Hump, Air & Space Magazine, May 1, 2010
– Buddy Lewis was on his way to Cooperstown before World War II, Cooperstown Expert, September 7, 2021
– Buddy Lewis: The Baseball Player Who Flew Over the Himalayas, The Sportsman, September 9, 2021
– Buddy Lewis: A Hero On and Off the Field, The Baseball Historian, September 10, 2021