Veteran, World War II historian dies at 89
Published: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 9:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2013 at 9:33 p.m.
Years after his service ended, Col. Phillip Newman still had a mission to accomplish: keep the memory of World War II alive.
Newman, veteran and dedicated educator of World War II, died Jan. 6 in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 89 years old.
He lived in the Gainesville area for about eight of the last 10 years of his life and had a passion for educating the younger generation about the importance of World War II. He spoke at numerous events and schools and was involved in nearly every veteran organization in the area.
As a World War II B-17 pilot and first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Newman served in the 15th Air Force, 99th Bomb Group and 347th Bomb Squadron. He flew 50 combat missions during the war out of Italy and after the war ended in Europe flew 15 search missions for POWs and concentration camps. After the war he worked for Western Auto Supply Co. and later owned Cascade Communications Inc. He continued to serve in the U.S. Air Force reserves until 1955 and earned the rank of colonel.
He is survived by his daughter, Phyllis Newman.
Those close to him say his personality filled any room he walked into. He engaged you, was straightforward in nature, friendly and didn't have a false bone in his body. You always knew where you stood with him. He loved people and people loved him back.
One of Newman's greatest concerns was that as veterans of the war slowly faded away, so would America's interest and appreciation for what it meant. It was a theme in his life to make sure the high price paid for freedom was not forgotten, and that the enormity of the war was not diminished.
He was an active member of the Military Support Group of Alachua County, the Decrepit Birdmen, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the UF Oral History Program, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Marine Corps League, the Alachua County Veterans' Advisory Board and was nominated more than once for local community service awards.
Newman spearheaded the efforts made by the Decrepit Birdmen, a local group of seniors involved in different aspects of aviation, to speak at schools and events around Alachua County.
Ole Nelson, a fellow member of the Decrepit Birdmen who spoke at schools with Newman, noted his natural ability to connect with children and young adults.
“We would go to schools to talk and they would just flock around him,” he said. “They trusted him.”
Nelson can remember only one time Newman was — for just a moment — at a loss for words. The two were at a middle school and had just finished speaking and opened the floor for questions. Nelson recalled a girl who had been sitting at the front with her “eyes as wide as saucers” throughout the entire lecture. She raised her hand and posed a question to Newman.
He paused, smiled and answered, “Well of course we won because you don't speak German.”
Susan King, managing director of the Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum in Keystone Heights, said Newman was an active participant in the museum. He donated much of his wartime memorabilia including photos, uniforms, mission maps, books, flight training manuals, a collection of recorded interviews with veterans and his own time.
King said at air shows and other events he would hand out bright yellow fliers printed on cardstock with the words “It's all about freedom” on them. King said she still has some.
In his last few years, he moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., to live with his daughter, Phyllis Newman, after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Though he decided not to pursue treatment, she said he never gave up on life.
He spent his days tracking down distant relatives, spending time with his daughter and continuing to reach out to schools to speak. Phyllis said he always had a pocketful of business cards with him and could talk to anyone.
During the last two years they spent together, she learned things about him that she didn't realize growing up as his daughter. His heart was softer than she thought and of all his titles, his favorite one was Daddy.
“He brought a lot of wonderful people into my life,” she said.
Donations may be sent in memory of Col. Newman to Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum, P.O. Box 357071, Gainesville, FL, 32635.