Moving Forward Without Forgetting

Gregory Lewis

Gregory Lewis '17

UC alum and Purple Heart recipient Gregory Lewis '17 on adapting, overcoming obstacles

A lot has changed for Gregory Lewis since July 12, 2010, when a bullet ripped through his right arm in Afghanistan.

For one, he’s mostly healed. After nearly a dozen surgeries and years of physical therapy, “I’m almost back to 100 percent,” he says, though he still has issues with wrist rotation. “I’ve learned to compensate. You have to be mentally strong and adapt.”

Lewis, who grew up in Sauquoit, New York, joined the Marines at age 17. In June 2010, Lewis’ scout sniper platoon was deployed to Afghanistan, and less than a month later, during a rooftop firefight with Taliban soldiers, he was hit in the arm by an AK-47 bullet.

“At first, I didn’t know I had actually gotten shot until I stood back up and realized my right arm didn’t work. The bones were shattered.”

While his fellow Marines moved quickly to tourniquet his arm and get him out of harm’s way, Lewis didn’t understand the extent of his injuries. Despite fading in and out of consciousness, he wanted to return to the fight.

“There’s so much adrenaline pumping through your body, you just push through the pain and keep going.”

No matter what life throws at you, you can overcome the obstacles. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Eventually, a medevac helicopter arrived and Lewis was transported to a hospital for surgery, first in Afghanistan and later in Germany. He returned to the U.S. several days later for additional surgery at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

It was during his recovery in Bethesda that Lewis learned he would receive the Purple Heart. Understandably, his reaction was mixed.

Gregory Lewis '17

“I was honored, but what happens in order to receive [a Purple Heart] is not very enjoyable.”

By 2013, with his military career on hold, Lewis decided to pursue a degree. He spent his freshman year at University of Mississippi, but later transferred to Utica College to be closer to home. He graduated in 2017 with a degree in criminal justice.

As a UC student, Lewis didn’t expect—or want—much attention for his service. In fact, most of his peers on campus had no idea he’s a veteran, let alone a Purple Heart recipient.

“I just like to be seen as a normal guy,” he says. “I did a job for a while, and that’s pretty much where my thinking stays.”

Privately, however, Lewis’ experience is never far from his mind. A Purple Heart is tattooed on his right arm, where he was shot.

“It’s a reminder that no matter what life throws at you, you can overcome the obstacles,” he says. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

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