Three original Thomas Kinkade paintings adorn the walls of Newel Langford’s living room. And replicas are scattered throughout the rest of the house. Langford’s home in the Walthall community has become his sanctuary and his cabinet of memories – many of which are rooted in his experience in three American wars.
“I feel good. I’ve been blessed in so many, many ways. God brought me back from the wars and has taken care of me,” he said.
In 1942, Langford was a19-year-old Texan at North Texas State University a few months after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. He was studying to be a Certified Public Accountant, and saw a promising future.
But then his older brother James, who had just graduated from the University of Texas, set out to serve for his country – and went with the younger Langford to enlist in the war.
“I was upset that the Japanese would do this to us,” Langford said. “I was willing to go. I didn’t even know whether I was coming back or not. The dear Lord was watching over me I guess.”
Though the United States sent James to Harvard to become a Navy Communications Officer, Langford was sent to the Navy, “to learn to fly the Navy way,” he said, as he had acquired a private pilot’s license during college. He was then commissioned as an officer once he concluded basic training at Corpus Christi, Texas, in February 1943.
After obtaining his “gold wings,” Langford was sent to Washington State, and was assigned to a Catalina aircraft. He then trained for three months, ending up at Attu – which is the most western of the Aleutian Islands stringing off the Alaskan coast. He was to fly bombing missions over the eastern Japanese islands on the Pacific Ocean.
“I was prepared to do what I had to do to preserve our life standards back in the states. At that time I didn’t have a wife, I didn’t have children, and I was willing to die for my country. I didn’t want to, but if that were necessary, then I would have done it,” he said. “The only reasons we were up in the Aleutian Islands was to give the Japanese a hard time on those particular islands there, to divert some attention from the South Pacific where we were taking a beating.”
In retrospect, the worst part of World War II, for him, was the horrific weather conditions. Days off the coast of Alaska pounded with four to five feet of snow each day and temperatures 22 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.
One of his most memorable experiences was when he and his crew rescued a dying Coast guardsman from Dutch Harbor on the Aleutian Islands. He said ice flows prevented boats from going in and there was no runway to land a plane to retrieve the injured guardsman. Doctors at Attu had been in contact with people on the island trying to convince them to operate, but they wouldn’t do it. After much hesitation of putting his crew in jeopardy, Langford was told by his crew that they had complete confidence in him helping the guardsman. He landed safely and got the injured man to safety at a local Navy base. The deed eventually won him an Air Medal several years after the war.
He ultimately served two tours in the war, first with 16 months, then the second with 15 months. After the war his three brothers and one brother-in-law all returned safely to the United States. “We were very, very lucky,” he said. Upon arriving home, he said – modestly – that he and other servicemen were treated like “royalty,” when they were dressed in uniform.
As a Navy reserve, he had planned to head back to college; but he was assigned by the Navy to fly all throughout the United States East Coast terminating, completing, and settling war-time contracts. At this time he met his future wife, Patricia.
Then there was Korea. But Langford never saw bombing missions – he flew “airvac” flights from Korea to Hawaii hauling the sick and injured away from the war zone. When they were healed, he flew them to the West Coast. This was his duty for and two and half years.
“Then I hung around, didn’t rush out, and ended up in the Vietnam War,” he said. During this time, he was sent to navigate the Ticonderoga, a heavy-attack aircraft carrier that had 46 planes on board, for 14 months. He calls this his “last sea duty.”
After serving at the Pentagon for five years with the Defense Intelligence Agency, where he had the time to complete his degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland, he left to work as a citizen for the first time in 30 years, retiring from the Navy. But the business he went to work for crumbled. He later worked for the
Army for another 20 years doing automate personnel, logistics, and financial systems. This job brought him to Fort Lee and then Chesterfield County.
He finally retired as a Commander 15 years ago, and lives in a quiet neighborhood in South Chesterfield.
Long-time friend Peggy Lee finds his lifetime achievements remarkable.
“I think he’s a hero. He’s won an Air Medal – and those aren’t just given to anybody,” she said. “His life has stood for a loyal commitment to our country; and I find his life marvelous because it seems like he can do anything. He’s 90 years old and has great energy and love, and he is a wonderful person and a great human being.”