We Need More Young Men Like Him


Reprinted from The Macon Telegraph

By Ed Grisamore
Telegraph Columnist

When he played high school football in Bleckley County, Michael Newton was quite familiar with the color purple.
It was part of the uniform, one of the school’s primary colors.

When he left for Iraq four months ago, he wasn’t expecting to come back with purple on his chest.
A few weeks ago, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, awarded Michael a purple heart.
The ceremony took place at Michael’s most recent address: Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.
Hagee hasn’t been the only big wheel to stop by. Senators John McCain and Saxby Chambliss have visited.
Before I tell you what happened to this hard-working, kind-hearted young man just 11 weeks after he arrived in Iraq, let me first tell you about him.
He joined the Marine reserves shortly after high school. He attended Middle Georgia College, majoring in political science.
While training with his reserve unit in Chattanooga, Tenn., Michael became involved with the Toys for Tots program.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “It was rewarding to see the expressions on the faces of the children at Christmas.”
In 2002, he contacted Macon’s Phil McGoldrick, who serves as Middle Georgia’s area coordinator for Toys for Tots. Michael was interested in starting a program in Cochran. He then organized everything on his own, collecting toys and donations.
“Next year, I’ll help you in Macon,” he told McGoldrick. “I’ll be a student at Mercer.”
Last fall, McGoldrick needed all the help he could get. He had his hands full. He spearheaded the efforts to bring the Vietnam Wall Experience to the Ocmulgee National Monument.
“He was a blessing to me,” said McGoldrick, of Snow’s Memorial Chapel. “He always had a smile on his face and was full of energy.”
They worked several drop sites together. McGoldrick remembers once taking two large boxes to collect toys. Michael was more optimistic. He filled the backs of three pickup trucks.
He received his orders before Christmas. It was his decision to go. He arrived on Feb. 18 and began working with the Iraqi people to establish a new government.
May 7, he was riding in a Humvee on its way to Baghdad. A series of roadside bombs exploded and struck the vehicle between Ar Ramadi and Al Fallujah.
No one was killed. Michael received the most serious injuries. He suffered a lacerated liver, a collapsed lung and multiple shrapnel wounds in his back.
He had two surgeries in Baghdad, then was flown to Germany. When Michael finally woke up three weeks later, he was at Bethesda.
His mother, Rhonda Graham, and stepfather, Kenneth, have been with him the entire time. He’s not sure when he’ll get to come home, just that he’s more than ready.
After six to eight months of rehabilitation, he hopes to complete his final year at Mercer.
This probably won’t surprise you, but he’s already talking about helping with Toys for Tots this Christmas.