For family and friends, the man who was killed in the early morning hours on Aug. 4 was more than just a Killeen homicide statistic: He was a husband, father and a U.S. Army combat veteran.
Cleveland Jermaine Lewis, 33, known as “C.J.,” was gunned down in front of his home around 2 a.m. in the 4500 block of Alan Kent Drive.
“C.J. was a combat veteran with a Purple Heart. He was a stand-up guy who served his nation, took care of his family and touched and changed lives,” said Justin Turner, who served with Cleveland Lewis at Fort Hood, for 15 months in Iraq, and as part of the Katrina relief effort. “He was a hero, and that’s not a word I use lightly.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up by Cleveland Lewis’s widow, Irene Lewis, to pay for funeral expenses for the father of five children.
Lewis said that although her husband was a veteran, the Veteran’s Administration will not pay for his burial to take place in North Carolina, where he was from, because the cemetery is not a veteran’s cemetery.
Turner said Cleveland Lewis was close to his grandmother and wanted to be buried next to her.
“Now his wife has to come up with that cost after the trauma they’ve been through,” Turner said. “They have to figure out how to get him back to North Carolina.”
A husband and father
Not even a week has passed.
“We’re dealing with it the best we can,” Lewis said. “Our 5-year-old knows her daddy is not here, and she’s asking when we can go see Daddy. She thinks flowers will make him get better. I don’t know what to tell her, there is no way to explain this to a child.”
Cleveland and Irene Lewis were married for 13 years and have 3 children together: the youngest is 2 months old and the oldest is 11. He had two children previous to their relationship.
She said her husband had a big heart.
“He was always helping people out; it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him,” Lewis said. “He was a jokester, always the life of the party.”
The family held a balloon release in his honor on Wednesday, on what would have been Cleveland Lewis’s 34th birthday.
“It was a bittersweet moment,” Lewis said. “He has a big family and it brought everybody together. Everybody was here.”
Lewis said she has no idea why her husband was shot and killed.
“Me and the kids were upstairs,” she said. “It’s so hard to deal with this because he was loved by so many and he didn’t deserve this. It’s hard to believe this even happened because C.J. wasn’t the type of person to do somebody else wrong.”
It was the Army that brought Cleveland Lewis to Killeen.
Jack Parker served with him in the Army, going through basic training together and serving during the Katrina relief effort, in Kuwait and Baghdad.
“He was an excellent soldier and person,” Parker said. “He spent his time on the ground with his platoon without thinking twice. He was also jolly and had a positive element. He didn’t carry hate or angst with him and always kept his cool.”
Turner said he was shocked by the news of his friend’s sudden death.
“Every year we always call one another on our birthdays to tell stories and laugh,” he said. Turner’s birthday was Thursday. “This year, on my birthday, it was just heartbreaking to know I wouldn’t be getting that call. It was always one of my favorite parts of my birthday.”
It was during Katrina that Turner saw the kind of person his friend was.
“Our job was to go around and get people medicine, food and water and help with infrastructure,” Turner said. The whole time, “C.J. was so positive. No matter how bad the situation seemed he would always bring us together.”
The troops were undersupplied when they first arrived in New Orleans.
“He was giving people the last bit of his water because they needed it more,” he said.
Turner said Cleveland Lewis was religious, preaching on Sundays and encouraging his buddies to go to church.
“He was true-blue, a godly man,” Turner said. “He would pray and pray for us. I became religious because of him.”
Yet there was never a dull moment with C.J. around.
“He would sing, rap, and if you had the worst day ever he would make it better,” Turner said. At a time when young soldiers can be silly and rambunctious, “C.J. was our conscience. We would do dumb things and he’d be like our dad, trying to get us to do better and lead by example.”
Turner said his friend sustained a traumatic brain injury in Iraq when an IED hit the vehicle he was in, and afterward PTSD was an issue for him and other men in the unit.
The group comes together whenever something happens to one of their own.
“We’ve always been tight because we joined the military as boys and grew into men as brothers in arms,” Turner said. “When something happens to a family member we react. We’re trying to come together to help the family. It’s what we do, and it’s what he would do for anyone.”
After many hours of conversations with his buddy C.J., Turner wishes he could say just one more thing: “I miss you, man, and I love you.”