‘I didn’t know any better’

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — U.S. Army medic Sam Newey never heard the German mortar coming as he dashed through a field in Eastern France to help a wounded comrade 77 years ago. But for decades after, he carried shrapnel from the bomb with him, buried under the jagged scars on both of his arms and legs.

As another Memorial Day approached, he said he remembers the pain, remembers crying out for his mother and for God as a Jeep rushed him from the battlefield.

And he remembers the long months of recovery, first in liberated Paris, then in England, and all the terribly injured men around him.

Newey was 20 when he was wounded on Jan. 31, 1945. He was from Chicago, the son of Assyrian immigrants from Iran, a pre-dental student who enlisted in the Army in 1942.

He became a field medic but admits he felt overwhelmed by the medical challenges he would soon face in battle.

“I felt that I hadn’t been adequately trained to take up emergency medical treatments, all the pressure and everything.”

He paused. “We improvised.”

‘No parades’

Newey is now 98, retired from a long, successful real estate career. He lives on the seventh floor of an oceanfront condo in Jacksonville Beach, where for 40 years he’s had views that go on for miles.

During an interview at a community room in his building, he said he never talked much about his World War II experiences: “No parades, nothing. I think this is the first occasion in my career that I’ve talked to somebody about it.”

Howard Adams, building engineer at the condo, came in partway through a Times-Union interview with Newey, saying: “You are interviewing one of the true heroes. He’s just solid gold.”

Newey deflects that kind of praise, again and again, changing subjects when any talk of wartime heroism comes up. He was often scared, he said, and was just doing what he was told.

“I didn’t know any better,” he said. “They just said, ‘Go ahead, do it.’”

He did bring to the interview some handwritten notes on his service and medals, including a Bronze Star. He also had a 28th Infantry Division ballcap a nephew bought. He had never worn it though, and he has no old wartime photos at hand.

“I have a steamer trunk in a mini-warehouse with my full uniform, and here I am, 98. What am I going to do with it? It’ll end up in The Salvation Army or something,” he said.

‘Really scared’

Newey came ashore in Normandy, France, a little less than two weeks after D-Day. It was terrifying, he said: There were still mines in the water, and he saw torn, bloated bodies and ruined boats floating as he approached the beach.

He didn’t have to wait long for combat.

“Scared s—less. Really scared,” he said.

He was shipped back to England for a spell after contracting severe pneumonia. After recovery, he returned to the front lines as American and French forces attacked German fighters in what was called the Colmar Pocket. It was a successful operation and drove the Germans back across the Rhine River into Germany.

On the last day of January in 1945, during heavy fighting he went to help a wounded soldier, wearing Red Cross brassards on his arms. He never made it.

“The mortar, it lands, you don’t hear it all. Just when it lands and the shrapnel gets all over,” he said.

‘Oldest guy in there’

After his honorable discharge following months in various hospitals, Newey went to Georgetown University’s foreign service school and then George Washington University for grad school. He worked in the oil industry before joining the anti-narcotics division at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics back in his hometown of Chicago.

Much of his work was as an undercover agent, going after dealers in marijuana and cocaine, mostly. He was recognized, once — though luckily it was by a friend of his mother.

“I thought your son went to college?” the friend asked his mother. “I saw him in a bad neighborhood. What’s he doing there?”

His life changed in 1953 when he saw Julienne Rahall at a convention in Pittsburgh for Lebanese-Americans. She was vivacious, outgoing, he said, and they were married the next year after seeing each other for barely two weeks in total.

“I met her on Memorial Day, saw her two days,” he said. “The next time I saw her in Atlantic City, a couple of days. Then she came to Chicago to visit me for Thanksgiving. Then saw her at Christmas in St. Petersburg, where we got engaged, and the next time was in Easter. I didn’t see her more than 15 days our entire relationship.”

She was a radio reporter for a station owned by her brother. Newey eventually left undercover narcotics work and joined her in the radio industry, which took him to Jacksonville in 1960.

He later became a Realtor for a half-century and got into real estate development with partner Jordan Ansbacher on a handshake deal that lasted 40 years. They ended up building and leasing a lot of chain restaurants, among other projects, he said.

The Neweys, who were long active in St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church on Bowden Road, liked to travel across America and internationally. They were married 64 years, until Julienne died on June 6, 2018. He now lives with their daughter, Pam, in the oceanfront condo he and Julienne shared for more than 35 years.

He said he never thought he would live this long.

“Hell no,” Newey said. He chuckled. “It’s not depressing, but it’s not as much fun as you think it is.”

At 98, this is his reality: “I go church, I go to meetings and I’m looking around to see if there’s anybody I know, if I’m the oldest guy in there.”

These days, he almost always is.

“It’s not very colorful, my life,” Newey said. “I’m just thankful. Thank God.”

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