US Sen. Coleman presents medals in ceremony Monday at Akeley VFW
Kathleen Swanson wept for the father she never knew. He died the day she was born.
Ethel Johnson wept for a marriage cut short by war, wondering how a widow would care for her newborn daughter.
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) comforted both women Monday as he awarded them posthumous medals commemorating Corp. Edward Newsom's service to his country, and his ultimate sacrifice in the South Pacific during World War II.
The day was emotional for the senator, too. He noted that it was his first Memorial Day without his father, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
"He gave his life and sacrifice for this country so the generations that followed may enjoy this great freedom," Coleman said of Newsom, telling Kathleen that his father was a great presence in his own life.
Coleman awarded Ethel the Combat Medical Badge and the Bronze Star for Newsom's ultimate act of bravery.
"The Bronze Star is the fourth highest medal of valor," Coleman told the crowd assembled at the Akeley VFW on a frigid afternoon. "Bronze is an alloy. We know something about mining in this part of the country," he said. (Bronze) is an alloy of tin and copper that makes it stronger.
"Edward Newsom's alloys - they were family and faith and courage and sacrifice and service and it made him stronger. As a result he served and he sacrificed. And I say this to those who served and sacrificed. They were regular folks who answered the call to duty and said, 'I'm willing to lay down my life for my country.'"
Johnson now lives in Underwood. She was a young woman living and working in Minneapolis in the late 1930s when she decided to take a ride on a streetcar using her only token. She wanted to see how far she could traverse the city without having to transfer to another car.
At Fort Snelling a young soldier got on the car and sat next to her. They began to talk. Newsom was a Texas native stationed at the fort.
"That old Texas drawl just got to me," Ethel recalls. It was love at first sight. Newsom, an army medic assigned to the 41st Infantry, was sent to the South Pacific three years into their marriage. Ethel remembers how difficult it was expecting a baby and living on her own.
"We had no way of knowing where he was," she said. "I knew he was in the South Pacific but I had no idea where or what he was doing." Military censors in those days reduced personal correspondence to blackened out areas of paper in case the writer might reveal a secret.
Ethel was devastated when she learned her husband was wounded in an air attack. That occurred on Biak Island June 1, 1944 - four days after Newsom and his fellow troops landed. He was shot attending to an injured soldier. Ethel never knew how serious the injuries were. All she knew was that by August, her husband was coming home to the Minneapolis VA.
He never arrived.
The day after she received the notice he would be returning, he died of his injuries. Ethel and her baby were living in St. Paul, surrounded by war widows and women waiting for their loved ones to come home. They comforted each other.
Ethel said she talked to an army chaplain about the circumstances under which her husband died, but didn't push for the details of his death.
"All I could think of was God giveth and he taketh away," she said.
A year later Ethel met another soldier who had just returned from the European Theater, fighting the Battle of the Bulge.
She said she doesn't remember if she had trepidation about the second love of her life being shipped to the South Pacific after his 30-day leave. Orville Johnson returned safely and the couple married 18 months after Ed's death. They had a 60-year romance that ended two years ago when Orville died.
Kathleen asked at age 6 if her "father" Ed was her real father. She was told it didn't matter. At age 16 she pursued her identity in earnest, and learned about the Newsom connection when she was unable to get a birth certificate. She thought her name was Kathleen Johnson.
In 2000 she joined the Akeley VFW after a friend told her she was eligible to join when the two discussed Ed.
Kathleen then started conducting Internet searches for her father. Her husband Bob Swanson helped her search. All they had was a name and date of death.
They purchased some military records on line and then bought census records. The search led them to Edward Newsom, and Kathleen began to pursue his military medals when she learned how her natural father died.
They eventually contacted Coleman's office for help. The senator's staff expedited the process and called to tell Kathleen that she would receive the medals.
"So many of the war heroes came home and never talked about it," Kathleen said. "I tried to imagine how my mother got through it."
Kathleen dedicated the medals to her mother. "Thank you for meeting him and loving him," she said as her mother dabbed her eyes with a tissue, overcome by emotion. "I had no idea what you had gone through at that point in your life, with a new child and a father no longer there."
She said she is grateful that she was not another war orphan and that she grew up in a loving home with three Johnson siblings.
Kathleen has made her own military sacrifice. All three of her sons have served in the Armed Forces. Her son, Steve, pulled two tours of duty in Iraq and is now a civilian employee in Afghanistan.
Her grandson Tommy is currently stationed in Iraq. They both tell her not to worry.
Kathleen eventually tracked down the remainder of Ed's family in Texas. His cousin gave her Ed's diary, written as he lay dying in a New Guinea hospital. She visited his grave in the Philippines on Memorial Day 2007.
Coleman hugged Ethel throughout the ceremony that was 64 years in the making. The tearful woman wistfully wondered what it would have been like to have been married to Edward Newsom for 60 years.
But she said she has had a wonderful life. She and Kathleen feel that Edward Newsom has been properly put to rest.