Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)

On Veteran’s Day, like every year, I started the morning early and headed out to the first of many ceremonies across our district to honor the men and women who have proudly worn the military uniform of the United States.  I just love it.  I love seeing our veterans, especially the older heroes who seem to exude a kind of pride in their country and their service that only those of that great generation posses.  But I found myself looking for a certain face, a certain hero of mine that I look forward to seeing at these events every year.  While I kept reminding myself I wouldn’t find him this year, I saw everything he represented in the eyes of every veteran I met.

Longtime Crosby resident, David H. McNerney, was a hero among us. First Sergeant McNerney received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the Vietnam War.  While this is enough to impress most anyone, it’s only part of the story. McNerney served not one tour of duty, not even two or three tours of duty – he served four combat tours of duty.

Like some of my other favorite war heroes, McNerney wasn’t born in Texas, but got here as fast as he could.  Born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1931, he moved to Houston with his family in high school.  After graduating from St. Thomas High School, McNerney enlisted in the Navy.  After serving two tours in the Korean War, he was discharged in 1952. 

McNerney gave college a try, enrolling at the University of Houston, but quickly realized his education would come from the battlefield rather than the classroom.  In 1953, McNerney enlisted in the United States Army.  Shortly after arriving at Fort Bliss, he was stationed in Korea and Okinawa.  In 1962 he was sent to Vietnam as one of the first 500 military advisors deployed.

In 1966, during his third combat tour of duty, he was stationed in the Central Highlands near the Cambodian border as a first sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. On the afternoon of March 21, 1967, he and his company were dropped in Polei Doc to recover a missing reconnaissance team.  They next morning, they came under heavy attack by the North Vietnamese and were easily outnumber three-to-one.  McNerney quickly took the front line and was wounded by a grenade.

The company commander was killed and without hesitation, and despite being wounded, McNerney took command of the unit.  Under intense fire, McNerney took out an enemy machine gun position, but the unit took heavy casualties.  In the midst of the chaos, he climbed a tree in plain sight of the North Vietnamese to mark his unit’s location before calling in an airstrike within 65 feet of their own position. 

He continued to move throughout the battlefield, pulling the wounded to safety and securing demolition material to clear the area for the medical evacuation helicopters.  Despite his own injuries, McNerney refused evacuation and stayed with his men until the new company commander arrived the next day.  His actions not only stopped the enemy from advancing and saved the lives of his men, his valor on the battlefield earned him the Medal of Honor.     

Now, this is where I usually say: “And that’s just the way it is.”  But, the story is not over.  David McNerney volunteered for a fourth tour in Vietnam before retiring as a first sergeant in December 1969.  Let me say that again: David McNerney volunteered for a fourth tour in Vietnam. 

The men that served with him have praised his leadership and bravery.  They don’t mince words when it comes to what he has meant to them: There's a bunch of guys walking around today who wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him.

Dennis Thompson Sr., who served in Vietnam with McNerney, said: “If, in fact, he were not there, everyone would have gotten massacred that day. People have to know that the man was a genuine hero.”

First Sergeant David McNerney died October 12, 2010 at the age of 79.  His obituary said that he humbly summarized his prestigious military career by saying, "I was a professional soldier." 

This Veteran’s Day was not the same for me.  His absence was noticed, but his service is never forgotten.  My friend, First Sergeant David McNerney, was a hero among us. 

And that’s just the way it is.