Jacksonville WWII doctor recalls conflict in Europe
US Army doctor Sam Newey never heard the German mortar arrive as he drove through a field in eastern France to aid a wounded comrade 77 years ago. But for decades after, he took shrapnel from the bomb with him, buried under the jagged scars on his arms and legs.
As another Memorial Day approached, he said he remembered the pain, remembered crying for his mother and for God as a Jeep rushed him from the battlefield.
And he remembers the long months of convalescence, first in liberated Paris, then in England, and of all the terribly wounded men who surrounded him.
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Newey was 20 when he was wounded on January 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 combat.
“I felt like I hadn’t been trained enough to take emergency medical treatment, all the pressure and everything.”
He stopped himself. “We improvised.
Newey is now 98 and retired after a long and successful career in real estate. He lives on the seventh floor of an oceanfront condo in Jacksonville Beach, where for 40 years he’s had views that stretch for miles.
During an interview in a community room in his apartment building, he said he never spoke much about his World War II experiences: “No parades, nothing. I think this is the first time of my career that I tell someone about it.”
Howard Adams, the condo’s structural engineer, came out in part during a Times-Union interview with Newey, saying, “You’re interviewing one of the real heroes. He’s just solid gold.”
Newey deflects that kind of praise again and again, changing the subject when it comes to wartime heroism. He was often scared, he said, and just did what he was told.
“I didn’t know any better,” he said. “They just said, ‘Go ahead, do it. “”
He brought to the interview handwritten notes about his service and his medals, including a bronze star. He also had a 28th Infantry Division baseball cap bought by a nephew. He had never worn it, however, and he doesn’t have any old war photos to hand.
“I’ve got 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.
Newey landed in Normandy, France, just under two weeks after D-Day. It was terrifying, he said: there were still mines in the water, and he saw torn bodies and swollen and wrecked boats float by as it nears the beach.
He didn’t have to wait long for the fight.
“Fear s—less. Really scared,” he said.
He was sent back to England for a stay after contracting severe pneumonia. After recovering, he returned to the front as American and French forces attacked German fighters in what was called the Colmar Pocket. It was a successful operation and pushed the Germans back across the Rhine into Germany.
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On the last day of January 1945, during heavy fighting, he went to help a wounded soldier, wearing Red Cross armbands on his arms. He never succeeded.
“The mortar, it lands, you don’t hear everything. Just as it lands and the shrapnel is all over the place,” he said.
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After his honorable discharge after months in various hospitals, Newey went to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and then to George Washington University for graduate school. He worked in the oil industry before joining the anti-narcotics division of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in his hometown of Chicago.
Much of his work was as an undercover agent, primarily pursuing marijuana and cocaine dealers. He was recognized, once, but fortunately 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 is he doing there?
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His life changed in 1953 when he saw Julienne Rahall at a convention in Pittsburgh for Lebanese Americans. She was lively, outgoing, he said, and they married the following year after seeing each other for just two weeks in total.
“I met her on Memorial Day, I saw her two days,” he said. “The next time I saw her in Atlantic City, a few days. Then she came to Chicago to visit me for Thanksgiving. Then I saw her at Christmas in St. Petersburg, where we got engaged, and the next time was at Easter. I didn’t see her for more than 15 days during our whole relationship.”
She was a radio reporter for a station owned by her brother. Newey eventually quit undercover narcotics work and joined the radio industry, which took him to Jacksonville in 1960.
He then became a real estate agent for half a century and got into property development with his partner Jordan Ansbacher in a handshake deal that lasted 40 years. They ended up building and leasing many chain restaurants, among other projects, he said.
The Neweys, who were long active at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church on Bowden Road, enjoyed traveling across America and abroad. They were married for 64 years, until Julienne passed away on June 6, 2018. He now lives with their daughter, Pam, in the beachfront 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 laughs. “It’s not depressing, but it’s not as fun as you think.”
At 98, it’s his reality: “I go to church, I go to meetings and I look around to see if there’s anyone I know, if I’m the oldest there- inside.”
These days, it almost always is.
“It’s not very colorful, my life,” Newey said. “I’m just grateful. Thank God.”