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Marine veteran celebrated as he turns 100 | The Macomb Daily

The Marines landed at Warren’s Park Place American House Community this week. They, and other vets, did it for Park Place resident Lee Vernon Newby Jr., to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Drafted at age 19, Newby served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942 until 1946. He was a Montford Point Marine. His daughter, Lena Bennette of Eastpointe, said he was stationed on Guadalcanal–Solomon Islands with others who trained at Camp Montford Point, N.C.

The Battle of Guadalcanal raged from August 1942 until February 1943. It was the first major land offensive by Allied forces, fought heavily by U.S. Marines, against Japan on three major islands in the Solomons, the goal being control of the strategic Henderson Field airstrip.

Newby, a Jackson, Tenn. native, sustained burns over 60 percent of his body. Bennette said he was in a coma for a time in an infirmary, and in spite of all that, returned to the front lines.

She said he never received a Purple Heart medal for his wounds, or any other individual medal.
Newby is a member of the organization Montford Point Marines of America Inc. that has a chapter in Detroit. Robert Middleton, who lives in the Detroit area, is the national commandant of the organization.

Middleton, who served multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, explained in a 2017 TV interview that the Montford Point Marines were America’s first black recruits to be inducted into the Marine Corps and that they were rejected and despised and even beaten in an acutely racist and divided America.

Middleton said that in 2012, America finally paid tribute to the sacrifice of the Montford Point Marines by awarding them Congressional Gold Medals. He is looking into other medals to which Newby is entitled.

Newby’s eldest son is John E. Newby, 60, a physician in Harpswell, Me., who also served in the Marine Corps. He said he is uncertain whether his father’s lack of medals is due to records being destroyed in an accidental fire, or discrimination.

In 1973, a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Mo. damaged or destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files documenting the service history of former military personnel discharged from 1912 to 1964.

“I don’t want to believe it’s discriminatory, although I don’t want to be naive,” John Newby said. “Purple Hearts are sacred and maybe at that time it wasn’t seen fit to give them out except under certain circumstances. I don’t know, to be honest with you. I do know that they are researching this, going through what records they obtained and we’re certainly providing what records we have to ensure proper research can be done.

“It’s apparent the man has been burned and that he sustained his injuries in the service and that’s why he gets disability (payments). He sustained those while serving his country during World War II. So, people have to put that together,” John Newby said.

“My understanding of it is that he was on a ship and there was a large kerosene container that was burning. It hit him and knocked him to the deck. A couple fellow Marines grabbed blankets and rolled him to extinguish the flames. He remembers that his clothes were attached to his skin. He was evacuated back to the states, and he said he laid on his back for a long time, wrapped like a mummy, and his skin was soughing off from his neck down. He has vivid memories of that. When he went back to the war zone, a number of guys he was serving with had perished in action. He said that getting burned probably saved his life.

“We are just grateful that we are able to have him as long as we have. We are grateful that, at 100, he is being recognized for some of his contributions before he goes on, and we are truly pushing this issue for him,” he said.

On Friday, April 28 the City of Warren held a tree-planting at its community center in Lee Newby’s honor. On Saturday, April 29, the family is throwing a party at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center with a video homage and gospel singers.

Newby married his wife Lula in 1960 and she died in 1992. The Detroiters had two sons and two daughters. There are nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. All four of the couple’s children have advanced education and degrees and are professionals in their fields. Their other two children are Chris Newby of Southfield and Jannise Newby of Warren. After WWII, Newby, who was an all-A student in his Tennessee high school, took business courses. He worked at Northville State Hospital and for the City of Detroit.

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