Lynn and Virgina Newcomb photographed on their honeymoon at the Grand Canyon (Submitted photos)
Veterans Day rememberances are often thought of as honoring members of our military who served in battle. It can, however, be easy to overlook those service members who made contributions here on the homefront.
Such is the case with World War II pilot, and former Crowley resident Lynn Newcomb. Another of what’s become known as the Greatest Generation, Newcomb passed away on Sept. 12, at age 91, joining many of his comrades who have also passed on.
An Army flight instructor, he flew numerous “sorties” over the Southwest desert, but never left the continental United States. Newcomb’s service to his country, however, is remembered fondly by his granddaughter Dierdre Lynn Shelton, who operates Mammoth Mail Delivery.
His story is truly the stuff of 1940s romanticism. Newcomb, who was born in 1920, hadn’t planned to go into the service. He met his soon-to-be wife, Virginia while the two were studying at USC in the early 1940s, but whatever vision they had about their future changed on Dec. 7, 1941.
Described as very “pro-America,” Shelton said that as soon as he heard President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s address to the nation following the Japanaese attack, he decided to join up, and enlisted in what was at the time known as the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the Air Force. (Newcomb’s brother, Ren, also served in the war in the Navy.)
As Dierdre tells it, Virginia told Newcomb in no uncertain terms that if he joined the military, she’d go back to Michigan. He did, and she did.
As love would have it, he followed her there to win her back. Upon meeting her father, Newcomb said, “I’m going to marry your daughter.” They were married in 1942.
Of course, the dreams of a big church wedding with lots of people downsized into a ceremony in the family house with just family, and the honeymoon was allowed to last only as long as it took to drive back to his base in Arizona.
Perhaps it was a mix of of his schooling at Black-Foxe Military Institute in Los Angeles, his mechanical ability — he grew up in a family of contractors, but whatever the case, he had little trouble becoming an ace pilot, assigned to flying the fast, agile, twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane.
Dierdre’s mother Cynthia Newcomb Quinn remembers her father as a great taskmaster, and naturally gregarious. “When you came to work, you worked, but you left with a lasting work ethic,” she related.
Newcomb could “pilot” just about anything … boats, bulldozers, snowcats, even hot-air balloons … and do it well. So well that, while he had hoped to see action, the Air Corps decided that natural leaders, especially ones that could consistently hit even the toughest bullseyes, were too valuable to send overseas.
His service to his country would be to train other fighter pilots for duty in the European and Pacific theaters. “He flourished in the military,” she said. He often wrote Virginia and other family members describing what it was like instructing pilots who would soon be flying into harm’s way.
“He was always on the move,” Shelton said. “With him it was always, ‘What’s next?’, ‘What are we doing now?’ and ‘What’s on tap for today?’ He used to break horses, and that gave him a lot of confidence, and in turn it inspired confidence in others, including his men.”
Among the letters he received were notes from his students letting them know how they were doing, many of them thanking him for the intense training he gave them before shipping out.
“It meant a lot to him to teach pilots who would leave their mark on the war,” Shelton said.
“He loved that, the camaraderie and the sense of patriotism,” added daughter Quinn. Granddaughter Shelton credits Newcomb’s deep sense of responsibiltiy to the impact of his father’s service in World War I, and there wasn’t much time between the two wars, it was still very fresh in peoples’ minds.”
In later years, Newcomb would only observe that those who served “did what they needed to do,” referring to it later as but a chapter in his life.
Shelton was profoundly sad to lose her grandfather, a respected, John Wayne-esque figure she and her mother both admired. One thing she finds comforting is the fact that her grandfather was one of WWII’s unseen, but not unsung, heroes, who gave his pilots the tools and skills they would need to help assure victory.
He went on to become a contemporary and friend of Dave McCoy. Newcomb is credited with establishing the first ski lift in Southern California at Mt. Waterman Ski Area.