|Return to Newman's profile | Return to the list|
Family buries a son, 'nation buries a hero'
He was trying to protect civilians from a bomb, but instead lost his own life on patrol south of Balad, Iraq.
Senior Airman William N. Newman attempted to dismantle a homemade incendiary Thursday after clearing residents from the area. But the device exploded, taking the life of the 2001 Lone Peak High School graduate.
Since Newman's death, family members are struggling to cope with their loss but take some solace in knowing he died trying to save lives.
"I was very much in shock," said his mother Geri Champion, a resident of Salt Lake County. "It felt like somebody gutted me, when I found out, and no one can put it back in. [Nothing] prepared me for losing my son in a war."
Newman had already begun making plans with family for his scheduled return to the U.S. next week, said his father, Matthew Newman, of Kingston Springs, Tenn.
"They say a parent should never have to bury a son or daughter," Matthew Newman said, his voice shaking with emotion. "This week we'll have to bury a son, and the nation bury a hero."
Newman had been stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, where he lived with his wife of nearly two years, So Young. He served in the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team of the 15th Civil Engineer Squadron.
Highland residents Jay and Connie Stephens helped to raise Newman and his sister, Emily, from the ages of 12 and 9 following their parents' divorce. Champion is Jay Stephens' niece.
After graduation, Newman left the Mountain West, opting to live with his father in Tennessee. It was there in 2003 that he decided to enter the Air Force.
"When he enlisted, we discussed it and he was aware that he could be sent to Iraq," Matthew Newman said. "He was proud to do it. He was so confident in his skills and training. He was anxious to go."
Not everyone initially supported Newman's decision, recalled his 25-year-old sister, Elizabeth Wright, of Missoula, Mont.
"I was against it," said Wright. "He was always telling me, 'Don't worry, I'll be fine . . . I didn't want to lose my brother to the war."
Jay Stephens remembers Newman as a boy known for his contagious smile, break-dancing and cheerleading in high school. Newman's decision to join the military - especially a unit working with explosives - came as a surprise to Jay Stephens.
Newman mentioned he made that decision because Iraqis "couldn't have done this on their own," said Jay Stephens.
Newman is the fourth soldier with ties to Utah to be killed in Iraq while attempting to dismantle a bomb. Earlier this year, three Hill Air Force Base airmen - Elizabeth Loncki, Timothy Weiner and Daniel Miller - lost their lives while trying to dismantle a car bomb south of Baghdad.
News of Newman's death sent shockwaves through the Highland community, where local Scout Troop 25 lined the Stephens' driveway with approximately two dozen American flags. Family members planted a tree in his memory.
"I was really hoping they were wrong - that they would call and say they made a mistake and he was fine," recalled Tennessee resident Emily Swaggerty, of hearing of her brother's death. "We were all completely devastated."
What remains for family and friends are photographs and shared memories.
"I had a dream recently that I was talking with him," Matthew Newman said of his son. "I had a good discussion with him and then I was at peace with it all. As long as I don't have to admit it out loud, I'm OK."
Funeral arrangements are pending, but William Newman will be buried with family in Tennessee.