James Newberry went missing in Korean War. 66 years later he’s still remembered
U.S. Army Pfc. James Roy Newberry briefly described the harrowing atmosphere of the Korean War in a letter sent to his mother in Lizella in 1952.
Newberry mentioned there had been 1,200 deaths over the last several days and how his unit was in the heat of a battle at White Horse Mountain. Newberry surmised about his chances of survival.
“Tell (my brother) Bobby he had better take care of his legs for he might have to come over here and use them,” Newberry wrote to his mother, Eunice Newberry, in October 1952. “I hope Shot (brother-in-law) can stay in the Motor Pool. He won’t get much rank in there but he has a better chance of getting back home.”
Newberry has yet to make it home from the Korean War. Roughly two months after writing the letter to his mother is when he went missing in action at the age of 21 while fighting Chinese ground forces in a North Korean basin known as the Punchbowl.
He is one of the roughly 7,700 American soldiers who went missing during the Korean War and are still unaccounted for.
In Newberry’s hometown there will be a new reminder of his sacrifice: Pfc. James Roy Newberry, POW-MIA Memorial Intersection.
The site — at Knoxville Road and Bethel Church Road in Lizella — has a special meaning. It’s where the family’s church, Bethel Baptist Church, is located and its cemetery is where family members including his parents are buried.
There’s also a grave for Newberry that has a marker made for him by the U.S. Army.
Macon-Bibb County designated the intersection in Newberry’s honor earlier this month and his sister, Doris Burnett, was among the special guests who attended a May 7 County Commission meeting.
In preparation, Burnett pored through some of the old letters and other documents related to her older brother’s Army service before flying in from her home in Las Vegas.
“It’s resurrected a lot of emotions getting out that paperwork and seeing all those documents that I had not seen in a long, long time,” Burnett said. “It is an honor. It’s like closure for the relatives, first cousins who lived on the same Newberry dirt road. It honors me how much they care about him.”
Rolling Thunder, a group that raises awareness for prisoners of war and those missing in action, is preparing for the special day when the signs marking “Pfc. James Roy Newberry, POW-MIA Memorial Intersection” are installed.
It’s important to honor those soldiers not just on Memorial Day, but year-round for the sacrifices they’ve made to the nation, said Rita Starnes-Tinney, spokeswoman for the local chapter of Rolling Thunder.
“Every single day when you wake up, you put your feet on the floor and you rise to face the day because of them in this country,” she said.
Missing in Action
James Roy Newberry grew up on a Lizella farm with his siblings and parents Eunice and Marvin Newberry Sr., who were born in the early 1900s.
One of the people who knew Newberry well is his now 87-year-old sister-in-law Betty Newberry, who would write letters to him while he was in Korea.
Burnett laughs while recalling that her brother would sometimes sign the back of photos as Jesse James.
“(Betty) just said he was funny and always doing crazy things,” Burnett said. “He just was a person who always made everybody laugh. You enjoyed him being around because he was joyful.”
Burnett was a young girl when she last saw her brother as he boarded a train at Macon’s Terminal Station. There was another brother, Howell Newberry, who survived World War II.
That didn’t stem the emotions when James Roy Newberry was departing.
“Everyone was crying,” said the 72-year-old Burnett. “I was like 5-and-a-half, six years old so I cried too. I didn’t know why we were crying but as it turned out there was a very good reason for the crying.”
Throughout a three-year period of the Korean War from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953, there were 36,574 American casualties.
The search and identification of thousands of missing Korean War solders remain a tedious, yet ongoing effort.
There were 866 graves with unknown remains at the National Military Cemetery and one unknown set buried at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, according to the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Scientific testing has been used to identify 120 of those remains.
Burnett and one of her brothers have submitted their DNA to the U.S Department of Defense’s registry.
In 2018, the North Korean army gave the U.S. 55 boxes of remains as part of an agreement signed between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.
Burnett said she understands there’s just a small chance that Newberry ever has a proper military burial.
There is still a great deal of significance in having the James Roy Newberry intersection for the last born of seven siblings.
“As the only sibling alive, I’m just happy to be here, happy to have this closure and recognition,” Burnett said.