Veteran of WW II and Korean War awarded seven medals for his service
BERRYVILLE -- Little did Roy Newborn know in 1943, when he left his family's cotton farm in Burnsville, Miss., to join the Navy, that his life would change forever.
Nor did he imagine that he would receive seven medals for his military service, until friend Nancy Strasburg told him to be at her house last Tuesday to receive them from Sen. John Boozman's office.
He remembered how he joined the service:
"In those days, they had what was called a selective volunteer. You met with certain individuals and discussed which branch of the service you might want to join. I chose the Navy. It was kind of funny, because I had never seen a sailor before in my life," he added.
Newborn, then just 20 years old, was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois for basic training.
"It was quite a learning experience, seeing the big city and all. At the camp, there were other men from all over the country. We (men from the South) took a lot of teasing about the way we spoke.
"Being from the country, we did not have access to the same type of learning people from the big cities had. The one thing we did have in common was we all felt strongly it was our duty to defend our county. We really believed in what we were doing," stated Newborn.
After his graduation from basic training, Newborn was returned to the South to attend Armed Guard training in Gulfport, Miss., and New Orleans, La. He would later board the merchant ship Orissa in Galveston, Texas, as a gunner.
At that time the merchant ship was operated by both Naval and civilian crew. The civilian crew, mostly Norwegian, were responsible for the cooking, cleaning and general maintenance of the ship. The Navy personnel were aboard to protect the ship.
Newborn stated that the Orissa flew under the Panamanian flag, considered a neutral country at the time, which meant the ship would be less likely to be attacked by the enemy.
But on May 11, 1944, the Orissa, then located at Majuro, Marshall Islands, was commissioned into the Navy fleet and renamed the SS Malvern.
"The civilians packed their bags and departed the ship. The Navy crew came aboard and we flew under the U.S. flag. Those Navy personnel on board stayed, but we had to take over the duties that the civilians had done," he said.
For the next several months the SS Malvern was positioned to support key battles in Solomon, Mariana, Marshall, Gilbert and the Carolina Islands.
When asked what were his most memorable moments at sea, Newborn recalls his encounters with President Roosevelt's son, who was an executive officer on one of the ships he supplied and with legendary actor Caesar Romero, who was enlisted with the Coast Guard.
After World War II ended in August 1945, Newborn left the West Coast and headed for Michigan, where he worked at a Chevrolet dealership until 1950. It wasn't long before Newborn was re-entered into active duty for the Korean War.
After being trained as an electrician, Newborn was back at sea, this time on the USS Okanogan.
The USS Okanogan, commissioned on Oct. 26, 1944, was active in transporting troops, equipment, casualties, POWs and civilian refugees.
Just one month after the North Koreans invaded the South, members from the 1st Marine Division in San Diego were loaded onto the massive ship, headed for Inchon Beach. The Marines landed on Sept. 15, 1951, and evacuated thousands of civilians.
Newborn recalls another famous mission that took place on Oct. 26, 1951, when the USS Okanogan brought Marines ashore at Wonsan, encircling troops to the south.
"The Okanogan is an amphibious ship, so we could unload all the equipment and other supplies. I remember they had run out of Marines and had drafted the Navy to fight at Wonson.
"I was ready to go, it was just like those pictures you see of the men at Okinawa, wading through the water. It was about that time that I found out that the R.K.A. (Royal Korean Army) had control of the beach, so I did not have to do any frontline battles. We did stay on and help, because they were still fighting, just further back from where we were."
After the Korean War ended, Newborn was sent to San Francisco, where he met and fell in love with Joi Williams. Newborn left the Navy and the two were married Sept. 28, 1952. They would go on to have two daughters, Priscilla and Carol.
The couple moved to Michigan and then back to San Francico, where Newborn worked at the Alameda Naval Base in the civilian arm of the Navy. He retired in 1983 after 34 years of military and civilian service to the Navy. The family moved to Berryville, sight unseen, in 1982 and have lived there ever since.
When asked if he would do anything differently, Newborn says he would have tried to become better educated and reach for higher goals and promotions within the Navy.
"But, I have no regrets, like I should have done this or I should have done that," he adds.
As far as receiving his medals for service, Newborn takes a very modest approach.
"I was shocked when they told me. I had nothing to do with it. It was all Nancy Strasburg's idea. She asked me about it (getting the medals) I said it would be okay if she wanted to do it. She took the bull by the horns, as they say," he laughs.
Newborn received a total of seven medals for his service.
"I take a certain amount of pride, but I am like several other million people who have served their country.
"I am not a big flag-waver, but here in America, our liberties are quite precious. I have always tried to keep my moral standards high as an ex-Navy man."
And so he has.