CROSBY TEXAS – For likely the last time his troops regrouped.
The men of A Co., 1st Battn., 8th Infantry Regt., 4th Infantry Div. who fought a desperate battle 43 years ago were gathered to say goodbye… goodbye to the hard as nails “top sergeant” the young troops resisted and even disliked in training, but had come to thank him for for their very lives, as well as those of their children and grandchildren.
In early spring 1967, career solider 1stSgt. David McNerney took command of his unit in Polei Doc, Republic of Vietnam; the commanding officer was dead and the NVA surrounded and threatened to decimate the inexperienced Americans.
McNerney, just two years from retirement, was everywhere over two days, drawing on a lifetime of experience and genuine love for soldiers young enough to be his sons.
McNerney would be awarded the Medal of Honor of the action which he insists was actually earned by the men in his command and that he simply wears it for them, especially those who died fighting a determined and fanatical enemy.
There is a deep sadness in their eyes. If only they could pay him back in kind for the four decades he’d given them, but cancer is too tough for 1stSgt McNerney, too much for his troops and in the end will succeed where an entire enemy battalion could not.
But this day, with smiles and stories shared with and about their leader, they could bask in a few hours of life that only survivors know, the payoff for those who have seen death and know first-hand that the difference in living and dying is a matter of inches, a sudden movement or miscalculation…. or the great heroism of a combat leader.
They hovered around him, anticipating every need or possible discomfort, he didn’t require a cane or a wheelchair; still strong arms abounded.
It was deeply touching to those who gather from around the country to spend just a few hours, other guests could only imagine the depth of the bond that has lasted most of these mens’ lives.
At the center of a swirl of activity for several hours, Top accepted the greetings and best wishes of the good people of his hometown, neighbors and comrades with dignity and grace, never complaining or giving into the pain.
He signed scores of autographs, a trying task for those healthy but unused to the ritual, but just another day in the life of someone who has literally signed his name tens of of thousands of times without complaint.
It was a good day for all who had come for one purpose—to honor a man deserving of that and more at a time when heroes are in short supply and many Americans have forgotten or never learned about duty, honor, country.
David McNerney never forgot from the moment 60 years ago he pledged his very life to defend his country.
It seems unfair; such men should get to live as long as they want, but soldiers learn early that life is not fair.
But as long as a single A Company trooper draws breath, David McNerney will be remembered.