A valued award, 66 years after the guns went silent

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged:

Published on December 08, 2010 with No Comments

by Mike Siroky

Sixty-six years later, the award still holds a terrific memory, not just for the recipient but for “all the guys” who have served our nation in wartime.

Friends and family packed Valparaiso’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 988 as veteran, member and friend Earl Newman was presented with the Legion of Honor from France.

Already hanging on the VFW wall is the display of Newman’s other medals, some from France and many from the U.S. government. For now, Newman carries the Legion of Honor in his pocket. It will eventually join the wall display.

This latest – but not necessarily last – was presented by special invitee, Indiana VFW State Commander Gene Kijanowski. The medal is representative of the French government’s gratitude for service in World War II from November 1942 to June 1945.

Members of Newman’s family attended the ceremony, along with other VFW officials, Porter County Sheriff David Lain, former Valparaiso Mayor David Butterfield and members of the American Veterans Motorcycle Riders Association, who presented him with an American flag.

Newman also has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the American Service Defense Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation from the American government.

“Created by Napoleon, it is the highest honor that France can bestow upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France,” read the letter from Graham Paul, consul general of France in Chicago.

Newman participated in campaigns in Morocco, French Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, southern France, the Rhineland and central Europe.

Even Newman had to admit the Legion of Honor award is “extremely rare.”

The accompanying letter thanks Newman for his service.

“More than 65 years ago, you gave your youth to France and the French people. Many of your fellow soldiers did not return, but they remain in our hearts. Thanks to the courage of these soldiers, to our American Friends and Allies, France has been living in peace for the past six decades. They saved us and we will never forget. I want you to know that for us, the French People, they are heroes,” reads the letter.

“It came 66 years too late, and they apologized for that. I should have it from my country first,” he said. “I’m surprised France gave it to me first, and I’m disappointed about that.”

Newman gets around with a walker nowadays, more a function of more than nine decades of living than any war wounds. His wife died a little less than a year ago, so his VFW family has become more meaningful.

Richard White is the current VFW 998 commander. He said Newman represents all the veterans of all wars, but certainly “his” war, World War II.

“Nationally we have 120 World War II officers and we’re all more than 80 years old,” White said. “We want these young guys, the ones coming home now, to understand why we’re here and they are welcome here. They need to be here and we need them.”

Newman said his longevity hinges on three things: Good wine, no smoking and respect.

“Respect is the main thing,” he said.

As with most veterans, he cuts right to the idea of glorifying combatants.

“A war is a terrible thing. A terrible thing. There is no forgetting,” he said.

His war started in Nov. 8, 1942, In North Africa. Newman can even tell you the time – 3 a.m.

“Five of us guys were fighting the Vichy [French forces loyal to Germany] and on the fourth day, I was called in to the commander’s office. He told me to go and meet Gen. Campbell [the Army’s Chief of Ordnance from 1942 to 1946],” Newman recalled.

“Gen. Campbell told me to draw a vehicle from the motor pool and I got a ’37 Packard, painted green, and was to meet him the next morning. He showed me where he was sleeping and where I was to sleep.”

The first assignment was a drive to Casablanca. They pulled up to a simple tent, one chair, one table and Earl was told to wait while the general went on to the shore.

“He told me to get my machine gun and don’t let anyone past,” Newman said. ‘If you feel uncomfortable, kill ’em,’ were his orders.

“I was stunned but ready to follow orders,” Newman said.

It was only later that he was told President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt “and all the big shots” were at a meeting.

“The table was for FDR to eat, he had to eat regular meals to help his health,” Newman said. “The general told me he hadn’t mentioned Roosevelt so I wouldn’t worry.”

He would go on to meet all the major players in the upper echelon of the American war effort. He remembers them all – some better than others.

“Patton was a show off,” Newman added.

“In a couple of days, the general got nervous about the machine gun so he told me to draw a side arm. I did. But I kept the machine gun under the seat,” Newman said. “I knew, as we were always in the advance, that they might take a general prisoner, but they would kill me.”

He had many memorable experiences, from meeting nomad leaders in tents made of goat skin, to learning rituals of eating so as to not offend hosts.

“I remember those meals, though,” he said. “They were delicious.”

As he progressed through the war zones, he often took time to visit significant historical locations. As an example, given a three-day pass in Italy, he skipped the revelry and engaged a cart driver to take him to.

“He didn’t want to go and I threatened to overturn his car; I had already paid him,” Newman recalled. “We went and became friends.”

Newman remained an advance man, often miles ahead of the main force, after he left the general’s service.

The machine gun became his best, and constant, friend.

“After we hit Sicily [and on to France and Germany] the way really began for me,” Newman said.

Many times, he would be assigned two or three soldiers to accompany him but some would slip away before engaging the enemy.

“No one was ready for killing; we are not made for war,” Newman said. “One time, I was on a hill overlooking the enemy advancing and, all of a sudden, bam! I was knocked down the hill.”

“My left arm was pretty messed up. When I awoke, all was calm and I saw God. I told Him I did not want to live if it meant leaving an arm or a leg behind,” Newman recalled. “I pulled myself together and struggled up the hill. The other four were all dead.”

Newman learned to go back to the main lines for food and other supplies because no one else would bring it up to the front.

“If you needed it or wanted it, you got it yourself,” Newman said.

Another time, he found himself once again alone on patrol and saw three tanks heading left, towards his troops. But they stopped and got out of their tanks to do their business and Newman said he let loose.

“I had it all, armor-piercing rounds and I killed about 150 Germans,” he said.

Word of his success in the field filtered back to those in charge.

“I got a nice letter from France telling me they knew where I had been and that all my medals would be mailed home,” he said.

“I never told anyone what I had done. But they knew.”

Once the war in Europe was over, “I was done with war. I had had my war,” Newman said.

So he took the relay trips home, getting as close as Terre Haute as he could.

“I walked in one tent and walked out the other to get my discharge papers,” he said.

No parade. No greeting party. Newman had to hitch hike home.

“I got back to Valpo about 3 a.m., the same time I had started,” he recalled.

“I went to an all-night diner, alone, to have a cup of hometown coffee. Pretty soon, another fella’ comes in and he had hitch hiked home, too. It was a ‘helluva’ thing.”

Newman had made arrangements for all his pay to go directly to Farmer’s state Bank.

“What was I gonna do with money in a war zone?” he asked. “But only about half the paychecks ever arrived, I keep on asking but I don’t think I will ever get paid.”

Newman remembers every shot he took in the battle zones.

“And I cry. I could cry right now. Not just for the friends but also for the Germans,” he said. “It was what we had to do. It doesn’t make it right.”

Newman’s medals are on display at the Valparaiso’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 988, located at 705 Roosevelt Road in Valparaiso. For more information, call 219-464-3668.

Share This Article

About Mike Siroky

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

Browse Archived Articles by

No Comments

Comments for A valued award, 66 years after the guns went silent are now closed.