After all these years, the Morris American Legion and the 103rd Infantry Division Association still are looking for descendants of Chinese-American Morris resident Lew Y. June, seeking aid in honoring the sacrifice he made on a cold winter night near Niederbron, France, in January 1945.
Carter Corsello and Jeff Poundstone spend every Wednesday morning at the Veterans Legacy Center pouring over documents and old newspaper clippings in an effort to learn as much as they can about the fallen soldiers of Grundy County, but finding June’s family is particularly important to them.
The University of Southern Mississippi has a document available online that shares June’s heroic sacrifice.
June’s platoon traveled from Niederbon, France, to Schirhoffen in the middle of winter when it came up against the 6th SS Mountain Division, surprising the Germans and forcing them to pull back.
“Frank Romano of Alton, Illinois, a member of the same squad as June, was firing a BAR [Browning automatic rifle] at the advancing enemy when he heard someone behind him scream, ‘Grenade!’ ” according to the document. “Romano turned just in time to see June dive on the grenade and smother the blast with his body, preventing death and injury to other members of the squad.”
Poundstone said they could go on for hours about their theories and what they know of the family June left behind, but it doesn’t put them any closer to solving the mystery.
The document from the University of Southern Mississippi said the confusion and chaos of war has led to June never officially being recognized, but his fellow combat infantrymen never forgot his sacrifice.
June’s family and identity is difficult to track down for other reasons, however: His records were among many lost in a July 12, 1973, fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Between 16 million and 18 million records were lost that day.
And, somehow, that’s not where the mystery ends.
Poundstone thinks June may have been a paper son.
“I’ve never heard that term before, but a Los Angeles Times article popped up somewhere while I was reading,” Poundstone said. “After reading it, I think it applies here.”
The article Poundstone is referencing is “‘Paper Sons,’ hidden pasts,” which was written by Lisa See and published in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 2, 2009.
See defines a paper son as “someone who had come to this country from China using papers claiming false U.S. citizenship and often false blood ties.”
June is first found in the U.S. in 1938, and it was illegal at that time for Chinese immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
“A new opportunity for citizenship arose after the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, when all birth records for the state were destroyed,” See wrote. “Suddenly, Chinese men who were already in the U.S. could claim they’d been born here.”
Poundstone said he knows for sure that June came to America in 1938, and he knows for sure that he was working at Pons Laundry at 122 W. Washington St., which is now Clayton’s Tap.
A Jan. 25, 1946, article from the Morris Daily Herald, now Morris Herald-News, shares information on June’s life.
It said June was better known as Bob Pons, and that he went into the service while attending Morris Community High School on Aug. 7, 1945. He had been overseas for only three months.
According to the Morris Daily Herald, June’s father was Charles Pon. He had sold his laundry business to live in Chicago three months before the article. June left behind brothers Billy Pon and John Pon.