Tomorrow, Walter Newman and his family will be jetting off to Paris.
But no summertime holiday, this. Rather, it’s a somber journey of remembrance for Newman, a third-generation San Franciscan, who served as an Infantry Officer of the 35th Division in France during World War II.
Newman has been invited by the French Government to Paris and Normandy to attend this weekend’s 65th Commemoration of D-Day -- that grim yet decisive Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France which, eventually, brought an end to this devastating, global war.
On the 6th day of June in 1944, the combined Allied Forces landing on the beaches along the coast of Normandy totaled some 156,000 servicemen. And on that day alone, this initial grueling battle cost the Allies an estimated 10,000 in casualties, including 2,500 dead.
Newman is one of about 20 American servicemen who fought in France during WWII and are being recognized by the French Government for their service in being named Chevaliers of the National Order of the Legion of Honour -- France’s highest honor.
Modest and soft-spoken, Newman rarely speaks of his war-time service. During WWII, he was an ROTC reserve officer. After graduating from the University of California, Newman went into active duty and was given command of a rifle company which he trained and led into combat on the beaches of Normandy just days after the initial D-Day invasion.
“World War II was a brutal war,” said Newman, a recipient of the Purple Heart. “When we landed on Omaha Beach, our division’s instructions were to fight above in the hedgerows that bordered tiny fields. The Germans were waiting for us on the other side.”
Newman was aware he’d been nominated for the Chevalier medal. But he just assumed the presentation would take place sometime in San Francisco at the French Consulate.
However a call came last week from the French Government. Along with two tickets to Paris for Newman and his wife, Ellen Magnin Newman, to participate in the commemoration ceremonies.
Their sons, Dr. Walter Newman, Jr. and John Newman, will accompany them. The medal investiture ceremony, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, takes place Friday at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris. The family then travels by train to Normandy for the June 6 commemoration at the U.S. Colleville-sur-Mer Cemetery near Omaha Beach where President Barack Obama will be attendance.
“A lot of my men are buried in that cemetery,” said Newman, softly.
Newman has previously visited the wartime memorials of Normandy. And over the years has also attended reunions with the remaining members of his old company. Those bonds forged during battle, he said, can never be broken.
But he’s still rather amazed and honored that he will be present at the 65th D-Day Commemoration.
“I hope I get the chance,” said Newman, “To shake the hand of President Obama.”