He was a war hero!
Lee Newby Jr. was one of Detroit’s first Black Marines, drafted when he was just 19 after the U.S. Marine Corps began accepting African American recruits in 1942, Yahoo! News reports. Newby Jr. served at Montford Point Marine until 1946 during World War II where he was burned on over 60% of his body.
“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,” said Newby Jr.’s eldest son, John E. Newby, a physician and fellow former Marine Corps.
Newby Jr. returned to the front lines even after his injuries but said the burn accident most likely saved his life, as most of the other Marines died in combat. Newby Jr. served at the Battle of Guadalcanal, the first major land attacks taken by American troops against Japan on three major Solomon Islands. Despite his heroic efforts, Newby Jr.’s family says their father has never received a Purple Heart medal for his war injuries or any other major individual medal, something they’re not sure is due to the racism of the time or the massive accidental fire that destroyed 16 to 18 million military personnel files in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
After the war, Newby Jr. resumed his education, taking business courses and working at Northville State Hospital. He married his late wife Lula in 1960, the couple having two sons and two daughters. They remained together until her death in 1992. While Newby Jr. was never properly honored for his service to this country, it didn’t stop him from living a full life and becoming a proud father of 4, grandfather of 9 and great-grandfather of two. He worked for the city of Detroit during the Motown era, regularly interacting with the music legends who frequented the county building including Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Jackson Five and Diana Ross and the Supremes.
This past weekend, Newby Jr. celebrated his centennial birthday with state lawmakers coming together to honor the WWII veteran on his 100th birthday. A tree planting was held in honor of Newby Jr. at the Warren Community Center and State Rep. Donavan McKinney and former NFL player turned first Black Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate was also in attendance. Former Marines Dave Schoenherr and Ben Elwartowski presented Newby Jr. with a chapter medal at the ceremony. Tate called Newby Jr. a “true hero and trailblazer” with McKinney saying the celebration was an honor for all Black Marines who served in WWII.
His family and friends gathered on April 29th for a huge party at Detroit’s Marriott Renaissance Center, Newby escorted to the festivities by a motorcade of veterans, police officers and Buffalo Soldiers. They said they will continue to amplify Newby Jr.’s accomplishments and are appreciative that he’s still here to receive the flowers he deserved so long ago.
“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,” said Newby Jr.’s son.
Happy 100th Birthday Mr. Lee Newby Jr! Because of you, we can!
Cover photo: Detroit celebrates the 100th birthday of one of the city’s first Black Marines/Photos courtesy of Click On Detroit/YouTube/Yahoo! News