'Fighting Eagles:' past meets present
October 13, 2011
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- As 35 mph winds howled across Range 13 Alpha, a small arms range, Kathleen Kress Hanson took off her black jacket, handing it to her husband.
"Hold this," she said as she kneeled on the Army poncho next to Staff Sgt. Walter Stockard, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
Laying flat on the poncho, Hanson looked through the site of the M249 machine gun, her pearls blowing in the wind. She pulled the trigger, firing off more than a dozen rounds in less than 10 seconds.
"That was fun," she said, wiping the dust from her red cocktail dress.
Hanson and her family members joined Soldiers and veterans of companies A and B, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg., at an open house, following the Oct. 6 dedication for the Medal of Honor of 1st Sgt. David H. McNerney, Hanson's uncle.
Still dressed in their formal attire, family members and Soldiers that served with McNerney in the 1960s met with current Soldiers to learn how serving in the Army has changed since the Vietnam War.
"We didn't wear ear plugs," said David Vigliotti, laughing.
Vigliotti served with Company A, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg., during Vietnam and joined his men on the range to fire rifles, machine guns and the M4 carbine -- a shortened form of the M16A2 rifle, which was not introduced into the service until 1994.
"The weapons are much smaller now," he said. "There's a lot of high-tech used now that we just didn't have back then. This kind of stuff makes a world of difference for the Soldier."
Veterans swapped war stories with current Soldiers, recounting the events of March 22, 1967, which earned McNerney the Medal of Honor.
"It's pretty amazing," said Sgt. Alfred Gallegos, an infantryman, Company A, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg. "Anything I've been through during my time in the military doesn't compare to what they went through."
Many of the veterans recounted McNerney's heroic actions for the younger generation.
"We honored that man," said Vigliotti. "He saved our lives and the Soldiers today really did a beautiful job honoring him with us."
McNerney's other Soldiers agreed.
"The 4th Inf. Div. has gone above and beyond to show their appreciation," said Joby McAulay, a former machine gunner with Company A, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg.
For the current Soldiers serving with 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg., the honor of meeting the older veterans was theirs.
"They always shake our hands and thank us for our service, but they're the ones we need to thank," Gallegos said.
"They didn't get the homecoming that we do today," said 1st Lt. Matt Brooks of Company B, 1st Bn., 8th. Inf. Reg. "So anything we can do to show our appreciation, we're happy to do it."