Dr. Benjamin Newman, A Truly Amazing Senior

Dr. Benjamin Newman A truly Amazing Senior Slider

People who go into medicine are generally motivated to help others. For the doctors and corpsmen of the U.S. Navy and Marines, this can be especially true. Often, they find themselves in dramatic situations where their aid can literally make the difference between life and death. During his 46 years of Navy service, Ben Newman was in several of those circumstances.

As a young man, Ben sometimes visited the Navy Yard in his native Philadelphia. Seeing those ships made him want to be a part of the team, and in 1962 he enlisted in the Navy as a medical student. Each summer, he spent 45 days on active duty as a medical officer in the Philadelphia Navy Hospital. After graduation, he joined Destroyer Squadron 2 on active duty and was soon on his way to Dong Ha Vietnam. It was the northernmost city in South Viet Nam, a focus of combat activity, and a rude awakening for a young doctor.

Nothing in his training had prepared Dr. Newman for this experience. He saw wounds from combat that would never be encountered in civilian practice. Early in his tour of duty, a young Marine who had stepped on a land mine arrived at the hospital. His foot, still in a boot, was held to his leg by just a piece of flesh. The attending doctor took it in hand, severed it with a knife, and threw it into a paper box.

Remembering the experience, Dr. Newman commented, “You are never the same after seeing something like that or someone dying. As the most junior guy there, I sometimes had to assign corpsmen to go out in the field with Marines. That was the worst job in the world because these guys might not come back. And a lot of them didn’t. You don’t forget that. I have a son who was a corpsman, and I am so proud.”

He quickly learned to respect and depend on the corpsmen at Dong Ha. Encountering combat, most people instinctively try to escape, but corpsmen run towards it. It is their job to be there when most needed, and many wounded soldiers owe their lives to these brave and skilled people.

In Dong Ha, his quarters were in a bunker, he ate only combat rations, and slept with his boots on, keeping one eye open for fear of being attacked during the night. He saw about 60 casualties every day. Duty hours were “as many hours as the job took.” Returning to the United States, Dr. Newman served stateside in Norfolk, VA at the Navy Clinic for one year.

Later, Ben separated from active duty but remained in the Navy Reserve. He opened a very successful private practice in Altamonte Springs, FL where he stayed for several years. He became associated with central Florida EMS and Emergency Rescue services, became a very competent helicopter pilot, and even got a commercial pilot’s license for fixed wing aircraft.

During that “quiet time,” he was called back to active duty in 1991 to participate in Operation Desert Storm, where he spent three months as the General Medical Officer for the Marines in Egypt and Kuwait. The oil fires were so thick that you could not see the sun. Many wounded Marines were treated in the field under the threat of Scud missile attack. The nights were bitterly cold, and the days were scorching hot.

That was a short duty tour, but in 1998 he left his Family Medicine Practice and returned to active duty, serving as the Senior Medical Officer with Navy Security Group Activity at Winter Harbor, Maine and then as Senior Medical Officer on the USS Bataan. Just hours after the September 11 attack, the Bataan deployed to the middle east to take part in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Following a seven-month deployment aboard the Bataan, Dr. Newman returned to the Portsmouth Navy Hospital and soon assumed the position of the Second Fleet Surgeon. He was responsible for overseeing the medical departments of approximately 126 ships and aircraft carriers. In 2007 he retired from the Navy, ushered out with a ceremony that included the Navy Marching Band. But his service was not quite over. On the day of his retirement party, he received a call from the Pentagon asking him to run the Navy Safe Harbor Program (later the Wounded Warriors Program) in Washington. In 2008, he had his second retirement after a lifetime of service to his country, the Navy and the countless soldiers and sailors he had helped.

This life story should inspire Americans young and old. Ben Newman could have spent his career in a safe, comfortable private medical practice. Instead, he chose a path that placed him in spots most of us would avoid. He was often deployed away from family for long periods and at considerable danger to himself. He goes out of his way to praise the skill, devotion, and courage of his corpsmen and fellow doctors.

After a 46-year career, CAPT Benjamin Newman, MD truly deserves the title, “Amazing Senior!” Thank you for your service, CAPT Newman.