Harry Lew’s Chinese immigrant parents were shocked when he told them he was joining the U.S. military. The 19-year-old, their only son, had just started college; he had told them he wanted to become an animation designer.
“I tried to stop him, I told him the military is very dangerous,” said his father, Allen Lew, who runs a trade show exhibit business in the Santa Clara County community of San Martin. “He just told us he wanted to serve his country.”
Just 18 months after their son enlisted in the Marines, his parents’ worst fear came true.
Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, 21, died April 3 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, based out of Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
The military told the family Lew was shot in the head but would not release other details of his death. The incident is under investigation, officials said.
“I feel very proud of my son,” his father said. “But I also feel very, very sad. Nothing can compare to the loss of my only son.”
Harry Lew was born and raised in Santa Clara. He graduated from Santa Clara High School in 2008 and enrolled for a year in Mission College. Friends and family said he brought life and laughter to the classroom and was a popular and outgoing student.
One of Lew’s passions was tricking, which is a combination of break dancing, acrobatics and martial arts. He helped coach a youth group called “That Breaking Club." The members remember him as someone who brought them close together with his sunny personality and impressive mid-air flips.
When Lew left home for his military service, he was 5 feet 7, his father said.
“After a year, he got an inch taller and stronger,” Allen Lew said.
The last time the family was together was in October during Harry Lew’s home leave. Before he left again, his parents threw him a party attended by nearly 70 friends and family members.
“When I dropped him off at the airport, I remember telling him, ‘You take care. Don’t get yourself killed,’” his father said. “He just said ‘OK,’ got his luggage and left.”
In the Marines, Lew was an infantryman training to be a sniper, his relatives said. After he arrived in Afghanistan in November 2010, his parents mailed him care packages about twice a month.
“We sent microwave food, canned food, Spam, hotdogs,” said his father. Whenever his parents could reach him by phone, Lew told them he missed his mother Sandy’s home cooking, including noodles and rice.
For his 21st birthday, his family marked the day at home with cake and Chinese food. They also put another care package in the mail.
The next day was Sunday, April 3. His father received a couple of phone calls from a stranger asking if he was Allen Lew and if they could stop by the house.
His father hung up both times. It was 7:30 a.m. He was still in his pajamas. He figured the caller must be trying to sell him something he didn’t need.
A few minutes later, he heard a knock on the door and learned the identity of the callers—two uniformed Marines, accompanied by several police officers.
“I knew it was something bad about Harry,” said his father. “I sensed it immediately.”
Lew’s funeral was held on April 16 at Church of the Valley in Santa Clara. It was attended by about 600 people. Among them was Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park). She is Lew’s aunt.
“Harry Lew was a good son and brother, a friend to many, a great performer and a dedicated soldier,” Chu said via e-mail. “His ready smile and warm attitude will be remembered by all who knew him. His sacrifice for his country will never be forgotten.”
Lew was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno.
In addition to his parents and aunt, Lew is survived by his sister, Carmen Lew, 23.