The “Stories Behind the Stars” is a project to document the lives of all the 405,399 U.S. military fallen of WWII. Though I could never write their complete life stories, these tributes are a glimpse into the lives, and deaths, of the best of the Greatest Generation. They are formed from a compilation of documented eyewitness accounts, military reports, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes information from families of the fallen.
First Lieutenant Newell T. Berg
Company B, 1st Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division
Killed in Action on 17 June 1944 during the battle of Saipan
Newell was born on 23 April 1916 in Besalt, Idaho to a Norwegian immigrant father and Idaho born mother. Newell grew up the youngest of six children. His father was the Besalt town mayor until his accidental death in 1935. After high school, Newell attended Idaho State University where he lettered in football for the 1937-8 seasons as a guard. He left Idaho State for Montana State College (now Montana State University), where he would graduate with a physical education degree in 1941. While at MSC, he was an all-conference guard on the football team.
Berg had briefly worked as a schoolteacher until he enlisted in the Marine Corps on 10 April 1942. Upon completion of his basic training at San Diego, California and follow on training at Hawthorne, Nevada, he was selected as a candidate to attend officer candidate school at Quantico, Virginia. Receiving his commission as a second lieutenant on 17 October 1942, he was then sent back to San Diego, California.
Lieutenant Berg joined 1st Battalion 8th Marines B Company in New Zealand as a replacement officer following their Guadalcanal campaign. He landed with 1/8 on the second morning of the attack on Tarawa, where he would be wounded and earn the silver star for placing demolitions in numerous enemy fortifications. The medal was pinned on him by Admiral Chester Nimitz.
1st Lieutenant Berg recovered from his wounds and rejoined the company for the Saipan Campaign. His luck would, however; run out. Lt. Newell Berg was killed in action on Saipan on 17 June 1944. During a heavy enemy barrage, an artillery shell fragment amputated one of his legs. No corpsmen were near to offer aid. A firsthand eyewitness account from a fellow B Company officer said that, “As his severed femoral artery pumped the last of his blood onto the sand on the beach, Newell gave the order to get his men off the beach.”
He was buried in a temporary cemetery on the island until 1948, when his remains were returned to Idaho at his mother's request. He is now buried next to his older brother, Private First Class LeMaun E. Berg, who was killed in action on New Guinea in 1943 while serving with the Army's 641st. Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Not only is Lt. Berg's death heartbreaking due to his mother losing two sons in the war, he is a part of one of the most extraordinary tragedies in sports history. Fourteen Montana State players spanning the classes of 1935 through 1944 were killed in World War II. Of those fourteen, eleven were full or part-time starters on the then-Montana State College varsity team during the 1940 and 1941 season. Famed sportscaster Bill Stern was the first to publicize the story when Stern named MSU's fallen heroes his "All-American Team" of 1944. By war's end, their names had been memorialized in newspapers across the country and read into the Congressional Record by legislators.
For more information:
Stories Behind the Stars project: https://www.storiesbehindthestars.org/
Find A Grave: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/52420217
Patriot Field Memorial: https://www.patriotfieldmemorial.com/find-your-heroes/fallen-soldiers/?page=b