Retired Fisherman Cecil Newcomb Dives Into Selectmen's Race

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Politics

Cecil Newcomb is running for selectman.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS If you had Cecil Newcomb's view of Lonnie's Pond, you might not be as willing as he is to spend a lot of time as a selectman.

Looking through the windows of the unique joined-domes house he shares with wife Anne Sigsbee, Newcomb spoke in a clear, quiet voice last week about his decision to run for office now that he's retired from fishing and his mooring business.

“Years ago, I gave it a fleeting thought,” he said, “any time something would go on in town hall that would infuriate me, which happened quite frequently. Then I'd have to go to work. This really isn't a job for someone who's a working person. It takes too much time and energy.”

Newcomb, who has served on the planning board and the shellfish and waterways advisory committee, is a 12th generation Wellfleetian whose family moved to Orleans when he was 4 so his dad could work at Jimmy DeLory's Mobil station. “Orleans was kid central,” recalled Newcomb, who grew up in a house across from the high school (now Nauset Middle School). He became a bat boy for the town team at nearby Eldredge Field.

When he was 10 or 11, a friend and he put out their own newspaper, printed by Ed and Mary Smith. “Miss (Charlotte) Kent (of Kent's Point) made cookies, and she put an ad in the paper,” Newcomb said. Later, he was a pressman for the Smiths just before they sold their Cape Cod Oracle newspaper.

Newcomb, who said he “had my draft notice before I had my (high school) diploma,” made a tour of the service recruiting offices before getting a guarantee of aviation training from the Marine Corps. “I always wanted to fly,” he said, remembering his first flight, at age 10, out of the Sky Meadow field in Orleans.

Still a teenager, he signed up to serve four years and began his training. In May 1968, he was a month away from heading to Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief when news came that his mother had died on Mother's Day of an aneurysm. She was 38. His orders were delayed six months, and he crossed the Pacific in January 1969.

“You can never get over it,” Newcomb said of the war. “A lot of good guys died. Some of it was enemy fire. One friend, they were flying in the fog and collided with an Army helicopter. They crashed and everybody died.”

The Army's copters handled troop movements, resupply deliveries, and medical evacuations. “As a crew chief you were assigned a helicopter,” Newcomb said. “That was your bird for as long as you were flying. Every time that bird left, you were on it. There were different pilots every time, different gunners, different corpsmen, but it was your helicopter.”

Newcomb's seat was behind the copter's control closet and faced aft so he could keep an eye on things. The pilots were strapped in and armored so closely that they could only see straight ahead, so “When you went into a landing zone, I'd have my (helmeted) head sticking out the window” to direct the pilots.

About half a year into his tour, Newcomb was wounded, catching a piece of shrapnel in his wrist. “I was embarrassed,” he said. “I didn't even want my Purple Heart. You carry people with their legs gone; those are the people that deserve a Purple Heart. A little scratch on the hand didn't qualify.” It would be decades before he would accept the honor, at the urging of squadron mates at a reunion.

The night he was shot down and wounded, his copter's copilot told him the chaplain wanted to see him. “I figured it was my grandmother,” Newcomb said. Eighty years old, she had moved in with his dad after Newcomb's mother had died to take care of Cecil's eight siblings. Instead, it was his father, who had died in a construction accident in Hyannis.

At 21, “I was now the sole support of the family,” Newcomb said. He was sent home and started doing construction work. “I hated it,” he said. “It wasn't my thing. I spent most of my time drinking. I hadn't discovered marijuana yet. The people who knew me, all that smoked, thought I was a narc. All the narcs thought I was a drug dealer.”

Estimating that he had held 43 some jobs in 20 years, Newcomb said he ended up in the Veterans Administration hospital in Northampton for treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He learned that he wasn't alone in having to cope with his feelings, and he encourages others in similar situations to reach out for help.

“By then, I had stopped drinking,” he said. “I've been sober 43 years.”

Newcomb “always went back to fishing,” he said, with his favorite time being working on Bob Ryder's boat the Schawanabec out of Chatham. He married and had a daughter, who's now head lifeguard at Nauset Beach and a teacher off-Cape. His first marriage ended in divorce.

Later, he renewed his acquaintance with Anne Sigsbee, whom he'd first met in 1966. Her husband, an oncologist at Cape Cod Hospital, had fallen ill on a vacation and died in a matter of days from an infection.

“Anne and Andy did a benefit waffle breakfast every Christmas season to raise money for Lower Cape Outreach,” Newcomb said. “After I met Anne, I took over as chief waffle maker. We talked about getting married some day and thought, 'Why don't we do it at the waffle breakfast?” On the big day, “she went upstairs and put on a dress, and I went downstairs and put on a jacket and tie. We had fiddle players and just started the ceremony.”

When he was asked to run for selectman, Newcomb recalled, “I said, 'No, you need a woman on the board. I wish my wife would run.'” Sigsbee is a co-organizer of the Orleans Pond Coalition's annual Celebrate Our Waters weekend.

That said, the candidate has given some thought to what he'd like to do if he's elected.

“I don't want to start a fire before I get in the door,” he said, “but I'm not a big fan of the town administrator. I'm not there to kick him out, but I want to hold his feet to the fire. Some things need to be addressed. They get lip service, but there has to be movement.”

Take affordable housing. “We're losing firemen, policemen, just town employees in general,” Newcomb said. “Nobody can afford to live here. My daughter is a prime example. She was a teacher at Dennis-Yarmouth, then Nauset, then back to D-Y. Her position was cut at Nauset, but they couldn't afford to buy a house here anyway. She went to Kingston, got a beautiful bay-front home for $350,000, and works in Marshfield.”

Orleans “is supposed to a designated green community, but I don't see things happening,” said Newcomb. “I see them being stonewalled, like electrical outlets for hookups for electric cars. Why didn't the DPW have an area for plug-ins? Why don't we have solar panels on that new $13 million building? It's always the same answer: money, money, money, but it's pay me now or pay me later. We've missed out on federal grants, state grants because we don't have a grant writer in this town.”

Newcomb wants action on dredging Nauset Estuary and would like to see a feeder program from the high school swim programs help supply lifeguards for town beaches. As for assigning betterments to pay for the downtown sewer collection system, he said he hopes “we can come up with something that's fair” and doesn't over-burden commercial owners. He also wants more use of alternative and innovative treatment technologies that have been tested for years at the Massachusetts Military Reservation on the Upper Cape.