When he was 19, John “Worth” Newman was a gunner, shooting from the midsection window of a B-17 bomber as it dodged enemy fire all over France toward the end of World War II.
They were on a mission to deliver supplies to French troops when a German fighter plane flew out of the bright sunlight and blew a hole in one of the plane’s four engines. They’d never seen it coming.
Those missions were among the most dangerous jobs in World War II. For Newman, it was his duty.
“You just did it,” he said.
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As the last surviving member of his plane’s crew, the 92-year-old Mooresville resident and Elkin native is just happy to be here.
Though he doesn’t consider himself a hero, he was honored as one on Wednesday afternoon. Along with nine other North Carolina World War II veterans, he received France’s highest recognition, the National Order of the Legion of Honor, in a ceremony at the Levine Museum of the New South.
“It is thanks to them, who fought against tyranny and for a free world, that we were able to celebrate the peace restored to a democratic Europe,” said Denis Barbet, the Consul General of France in Atlanta, who presented the awards. “Dear veterans, you are our heroes. By fulfilling your duty to your country, you helped ensure liberty and democracy for the French people, and we will never forget that.”
The award was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to recognize outstanding service to the French republic. More than 70 North Carolina veterans have received it since the early 2000s.
“Each time, I can assure you that I was and I am deeply humbled and moved by the opportunity to meet those veterans and express to them officially the eternal gratitude of the French for their brave service more than 70 years ago,” Barbet said.
Another honoree, Jerome Schwartz of Charlotte, worked his way up from bazookaman to scout to squad leader to staff sergeant, and was part of the group that captured the first breach across the Saar river in northeastern France. He was 19.
Heather Clavé, a spokesperson for the Consulate of France in Atlanta, said North Carolina usually has a higher number of recipients of the award than other southeastern states. The honor is awarded a few times a year as the applications are processed. At the most recent ceremonies, there were five honorees in Georgia and five in Alabama, and there are two veterans waiting to be decorated in Mississippi.
Legion of Honor recipients
Ten North Carolina World War II veterans received France’s highest recognition, the National Order of the Legion of Honor, in a ceremony in Charlotte:
Richard P. Woodson, Raleigh (Major, United States Air Force, 96th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force)
Lewis E. Herron, Asheville (Staff Sergeant, 8th Air Force, 100th Bomb Group)
John “Worth” Newman, Mooresville (Staff Sergeant, 410th Bombardment Squadron, 94th Bombardment Group, 4th Combat Bombardment Wing, 3rd Bombardment Division, 8th Air Force)
Jerome M. Schwartz, Charlotte (Staff Sergeant, Company A, 379th Regiment, 95th Infantry Division)
James M. Bond, Edenton (Sergeant, 8th Air Force, 385th Bomb Group, 551th Bomb Squad)
Vincent Corsini, Burlington (Sergeant, Company I, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division)
Mervin Eugene Hogg, Wilmington (Sergeant, Anti-Tank Company, 358th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division)
James R. Inman, Elizabethtown (Private First Class, 551th Anti-Aircraft, 3rd Army)
Charles J. Jones, Jamestown (Private First Class, 66th Infantry Division, 263rd Regiment)
Julius N. Watlington, Yanceyville (Private First Class, 69th Infantry, 271 Battalion, Company I, 60 MM Mortar Squad)
In addition, Anthony Joseph Buccieri from Apex (Water Tender 2nd Class, US Navy) and Murray Lorber from Raleigh(Technician 5th Grade, 112th Infantry Regiment 28th Infantry Division), who have also been newly named to the National Order of the Legion of Honor, will receive the medal at a later date.