WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. (AP) - James Newell was only 18 years old when he was drafted into the Army and asked to help the Allies begin to push the Nazis back across Europe in the closing years of World War II.
It has been 71 years since Newell, 89, of West Bridgewater, first stepped foot in France, but he is still being recognized for his accomplishments during the war and the sacrifices that he made as he fought his way across five countries on the road to Berlin.
Earlier this month, Newell was appointed a “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Hollande. The award is the highest honor given by the French government.
“It is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II,” Valery Freland, the consul general of France in Boston, wrote to Newell. “The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom.”
For Newell, the award comes as a welcome recognition of his service in the war’s European Theatre.
“I’m very happy,” said Newell. “For what I did, I think I deserve it.”
In 1944 and 1945, Newell served under General George Patton as a private in the 76th Infantry Division. During the war, he had a highly decorated combat record, earning four Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.
While fighting in Luxembourg, Newell ran into the line of fire to aid a fellow soldier who had been wounded in battle. After bringing his comrade to safety, Newell put himself in the line of fire again to evacuate the soldier so that he could receive medical attention.
In another instance, Newell continued to serve his country despite a gunshot wound to the neck.
“I kept fighting. I didn’t know,” Newell said. “I thought it was just from a shell, but I had a bullet in my neck.”
It was not the only time that Newell would continue fighting despite serious injuries. Later in the war, he would end up trapped behind enemy lines after being hit by shellfire.
“When I woke up, I had both my boots and socks blown off,” Newell said.
Surrounded by bodies, Newell discovered two German soldiers dressed in American uniforms whom he took as prisoners of war and brought back across American lines.
After returning home to the United States, Newell never discussed his service in the war and only recently began to open up about his experiences overseas after the death of his wife Margaret in 2007.
“I never talked about it for a long time,” Newell said. “You don’t want to talk about something like that. You want to forget about it.”
Newell’s elected representatives, including former Sen. Scott Brown and Congressman Stephen Lynch, have written on the West Bridgewater resident’s behalf, recommending him for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
However, Mellisa Leonard, Newell’s granddaughter, said those efforts have been hampered by a lack of eyewitnesses and the fact that Newell’s Army records were destroyed in a fire.
“With his age, there aren’t any eyewitness accounts because everyone has passed on,” Leonard said.
However, the family remains hopeful that Newell will received further recognition for his service from the United States.
“You want to be recognized by the country you’re fighting for,” Leonard said.
Newell plans to attend a ceremony at the French Consul in Boston next month with his family, where he will be formally presented with the award.
Information from: The (Brockton, Mass.) Enterprise, https://www.enterprisenews.com
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