Where Are You Newberry, Where Have You Gone?

boatraid2

Bravo Company Raiders, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.  “Big Wave, Little Boat”

*This piece originally appeared in The Nugget News, February 24, 2016

Next month I have the distinct privilege of traveling to Arizona with Sisters-based Warfighter Outfitters, and the occasion has caused me to think deeply about my service, and some of the larger characters who inhabited that world.

I was a Marine, with Bravo Company 1/1, deployed twice to the Persian Gulf, and those men are among the greatest friends I will ever know. I am in touch with many of them, but it is some of the others I am thinking about now, those characters who have faded as the world turned and we rotated out, but who left an imprint forever stamped in my mind.

I think instantly of Newberry.

Lance Corporal Newberry was a liberty risk. Everyone knew this. In a world of rigid discipline, where young Marines were routinely made to bear-crawl up the steep hills of Camp Pendleton, or run repeatedly up even steeper hills to sit under “The Tree of Knowledge,” or to cover and align woodchips in front of the barracks, or to stand barefooted in the commode, wearing a gas mask and a flak jacket while singing the Marines’ Hymn under a fusillade of darts, Newberry’s tireless and smiling accumulation of derelictions found him most often confined to quarters, doing thousands of pushups in “incentive training” sessions, or pulling an endless series of 24-hour guard mounts around Camp Horno.

In an environment where conformity is demanded, and “instant and willing obedience to orders” is both expected and enforced, it was precisely Newberry’s good-natured refusal to take anything seriously that made him beloved by all, even those whose unfortunate job it was to discipline him for yet another smiling rebuke or insouciant refusal in the face of Company Punishment or the UCMJ.

Newberry was anything but stupid. He was incredibly intelligent. He wasn’t lazy, either. He worked as hard as anyone, and given his extra duties one might argue he worked much harder. He wasn’t smug, or openly defiant, he wasn’t a malcontent sewing disorder, and he wasn’t a criminal masquerading in uniform. He was, simply, Newberry.

Newberrys are never made. They are simply born.

Newberry hailed from the deep South. Alabama, or Mississippi, or perhaps it was Georgia. I can’t remember. I do remember his bright smile and his constantly sunny disposition, the eternal glow on his shoulders even in the course of a disciplinary moment. He was simply full of “Yes, Sergeants,” and “Yes, Sirs,” and would salute crisply before moving on to ignore or egregiously violate every order thrown his way.

Dateline: Singapore. On our second forward deployment to the Gulf, we made a liberty call in Singapore. We were given the obligatory speeches and warnings and orders to avoid the off-limits areas.

Naturally, Newberry disappeared immediately. He returned to the ship only at the last possible moment, his foot in a cast, and his head stapled from eyebrow to earlobe. He was immediately hauled to the Company Office, somewhere in the superstructure of the USS Peleliu, for office hours.

The reports are largely unreliable, but the word that filtered down to us – Newberry-lovers all – was that Newberry had responded, when asked what had happened to him, and where he had been, with a simple answer: “I was off-limits, and I was attacked by Ninjas,” he said.

Whether or not Newberry was attacked by Ninjas we will never know for certain, but that answer, which could only be true, elevated him instantly to legendary status.

In the Marine Corps, a Sergeant Major sits somewhere close to God Almighty. And he has earned that post. And I was there when the MEU Sergeant Major toured our berthing space, sometime after the Ninja attack, chatting with the young Marines, and happened by the disaster of Newberry’s rack. Newberry had taken the occasion of his convalescence to forget he was even a Marine. The Sgt. Major passed Newberry’s rack as though he hadn’t seen it, then stopped, took three steps backward, and loudly demanded that Newberry present himself.

Newberry crawled out of his rack, bearded, casted, stapled, and wearing a Navy Engineer’s jumpsuit. He stood front and center, solid as Gibralter.

“Marine!” the Sergeant Major demanded loudly, freezing the entire port side of a gigantic warship. “Just who do you think you are?”

And then, in the arctic silence that had fallen over the tight confines of our berthing space, an echoing, terrible, demanding silence that coated all of us with hoarfrost, Newberry said quietly, securely, with a southern accent and without pause: “Johnny Cash.”

And so next month I will travel to Arizona with my fellow veterans. I look forward to this trip with something much beyond eagerness, because we all knew our own Newberrys, maybe some part of us, sometimes, wished we were him, and maybe some part of us still does. But wherever we assemble from, we took an oath once, for the Newberrys of this world, and for something bigger than just ourselves.

**Update:  within hours of this column’s original publication, Newberry was actually located.  He is back in his home state of Tennessee–the one state I left out of my guesswork.  This magic was accomplished via The Book of Face, and serves as proof that the “Lance Corporal Network” is still in high gear.  It also says something terrific about the Marine Corps brotherhood.  He even wrote to The Nugget thanking us for this column about him.  I have received a personal message from his girlfriend, as well, who assures me that Johnny Cash is doing fantastic, and hasn’t changed a bit.  What a strange, small world it is.  And that, my friends, is a truly happy ending.

  1. Just had a guy stop by The Nugget office to say thanks for the Newberry column. He was reading it in the dentist’s office and “giggling like an idiot” (his words). “God bless him,” he said, “that’s my kinda guy.”

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    1. Thanks for sharing this. I keep learning, each time I put something down, what a privilege it is to reach people I don’t, and may never, know. I was telling Wendy the other night about something I learned from a stand-up comedian, who was giving an interview the other day. Guy said, “If I think it’s funny, there is a good chance somebody else out there does too.” Not sure why it was so particularly poignant when I heard it, but I learned something about writing from it. If it resonates, it just does. And, it’s a huge responsibility. I’m not much of a comedian, but I’d like to learn how to be a really good writer. Thanks, Jim.

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  2. Craig, you definitely have the gift of keeping readers interested in your adventures!

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    1. Lynda!!! Thanks for signing up and reading! What a treat to have you here! Wait till I start writing about the weird adventures at LCC!!! I hope you are well, and I thank you sincerely for the Veteran’s Day card. It’s always there, every year, and I appreciate it more than you can know. I hope you and Chris are both enjoying every minute. Stay tuned, I am going to try hard not to be too boring on these pages. 🙂

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  3. Craig, I really enjoyed this post. In fact I enjoy all of them. During my 15 years in the Corps I knew 1 or 2 Newberry type. This issue of The Bunkhouse brought back a lot of memories. Thank you.
    Semper Fi

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    1. Thanks Richard. And thanks for reading. Semper Fi

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  4. What a great reminder your story is about my own military “Newberry”…”Arlo”..my Vietnam squadron roommate and last A-6 Navigator lost in the war. His complete irreverence in the face of the system was a delight to observe, and stirred a similar urging in each of us to “let it loose” a bit more. I’m grateful that he was in my life…he was a piece of work, and a deep part of my life. Thanks for kicking the stones up as a reminder!

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    1. Something, I think particularly when the stakes are high and tensions overwhelming, draws us to the Newberrys and Arlos. We have to have them to keep perspective, I suppose, or risk losing it. Thanks for reading, and I hope you are healing up well.

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  5. Once again Craig you have brought me to meet another interesting person in your writings. I can think of Newberry types in my past and you can bet I’ll know more before this ride is over.

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    1. I think I will meet a few similars too. I’m just glad they are out there, keeping the rest of us from taking it all too seriously.

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  6. dave sturgeon March 3, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Love it… S/F marine! Knew there must be a reason why I enjoyed your writing so much. Served w/1st Recon Bn from ’91 thru ’94, then was an active-reservist w/Det. 4th Force Recon Co. 2000-2002 myself. Again, thanks for sharing your writing!

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    1. Recon Bubba! Great to have you on board for my latest incarnation. 4th Force…Reno? I was TDY’d there for about 3 weeks…which is another long story I’ll spare you. Our 1/1 platoon was the trailer platoon for the MSPF, which basically meant that we got a lot of hand-me down gear from Force and trained up for missions we would never get. But we DID get some great schools out of it, and I’ll take that. Writers need readers, so thank you!

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      1. dave sturgeon March 3, 2016 at 4:11 pm

        lol… Yep. Det. 4th Force Recon Co., back when it was located in the paradise that IS…Stead, NV. 😉 –dave

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      2. Oh Stead is a dreamy place. Nothing like the youth labor camps and its location next to Lemon Valley, home to the largest trailer park in the world. Yum.

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  7. C. Terrence #8736 March 8, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    I get totally lost in whatever you write, Craig. I think to myself, “I can’t believe I actually know this guy,” as I smile or cry or emote exactly whatever response you probably hoped a reader would experience. I’m grateful for your writing and happy to have worked with someone so special.

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    1. Corina! Great to hear from you. And you are much too kind to my writing, but I’ll take it 🙂 I’m happy to have worked with you too, we ran a few good calls together…finding bullets in a shot up car, chasing hoodlums on the lower east side, and such. Hope you are well and happy 🙂

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  8. I met Newberry through his business partner (a machine gunner from Texas he served with) They both moved to Tennessee after getting out of the Corps, and enduring some adventures in Southern California. I hired them right off the bat once I found out they were Marines. I was a combat engineer in the Marines. We worked together for several years, the jobs on the road were definitely memorable. after being out of the Marines for 13 years, I rejoined the military as a Seabee. I have told the story of Newberry, and Harris’ ninja attack all over the world. Newberry deserves to be a Marine Corps legend.

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    1. That is fantastic. And I couldn’t agree more, he should be a Marine Corps legend. Thanks for writing in, much appreciated.

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