By Dennis Smith - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - James Newman was a student at Mississippi College in the mid-1960s. A Navy recruiter came to campus and fed his appetite for learning to fly. It was also when America's role in Vietnam was greatly expanding.
"I really had a feeling what we were doing at the time was right. I just felt very strongly at the time about enlisting," Newman recalls. "That and the fact that I always wanted to fly."
Newman ended up in Army aviation flying a Cobra gunship in Vietnam trying to protect the soldiers on the ground.
"When I was there, it was the height of the war, so you were pretty busy trying to save your hide," he says. "It was a day to day experience. There was no front line; there was no place to hide. When you went back to your base camp at night, you got rockets and mortars almost daily so it was a continuously stressful situation."
He was wounded during the war.
"I got shot through the base of my neck and they had to cut it out," he explains. "We were flying in support in covering a convoy. The convoy was going through a rubber plantation where the V. C. were lying in ambush. But the gunships were discouraged from shooting up the rubber trees since the U.S. Had to reimburse the rubber company."
He continues,"The V.C. knew this. They'd hide in the trees and blow the lead vehicle in the convoy. We got to the point where we said, 'the heck with it. A tree's not worth losing a GI over it,' so we'd shoot 'em up."
Then a fateful encounter.
"So they opened fire on us instead of the convoy. My pilot lost a hand in the thing. I was shot in the neck and had to fly the helicopter back. I thought I was the guy who was hurt."
After his second tour, Newman left the Army for the National Guard and went to work for JPD as a patrolman and a chopper pilot, MBN as an agent and pilot, and finally as a pilot for Entergy before retiring.
"Nobody got a pat on the back. Nobody said hi," he says, reflecting on Vietnam. "I'm glad to say with Desert Storm and Iraq that the people are more welcoming of their troops. They're more appreciative. I'm glad to see that and they deserve it. But the guys who were in Vietnam deserve it also."
Newman's youngest daughter is a pilot flying C-17s out of Jackson to Iraq to evacuate wounded. His son-in-law does the same. Both were inspired by his service.
"That makes me pretty proud of what I did," he says. "Them following in my footsteps is a way of approval for what I did."
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