By 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs OfficeNovember 9, 2010
Retired 1st Sgt. David H. McNerney, a 4th Infantry Division Medal of Honor recipient, passed away Oct. 10 at the age of 79, after a nine-month battle with lung cancer.
McNerney was the first sergeant of Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Inf. Div., when he was awarded the nation's highest honor for bravery in 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson for heroics during action in Polei Doc, Republic of Vietnam.
Born June 2, 1931 in Lowell, Mass., McNerney moved to Houston in the early 1940s. After he graduated from high school, he joined the Navy in 1949 to follow in his brother, Edward's, footsteps of service to his country.
In the Navy, McNerney completed two tours in Korea before his 1952 discharge. After his service in the Navy, and a brief period of college, McNerney enlisted in the Army.
During his career, McNerney served four tours of duty in Vietnam as both an adviser and as a first sergeant of an infantry company spanning from 1962-1969. In a ceremony at the White House, Johnson awarded the Medal of Honor to McNerney Sept. 19, 1968.
His company of 108 Soldiers had been on patrol to search and destroy enemy forces in the area when the company was caught in a ferocious ambush by a North Vietnamese Armybattalion numbering approximately 800. McNerney's company would have been overrun had it not been for his leadership.
After all of the officers had been killed except for one who was severely injured, McNerney took command, exposing himself to enemy fire several times during the company's defense. When relief arrived, Company A had suffered 22 killed and 43 wounded.
Although McNerney had been wounded by a grenade, he refused evacuation until his replacement arrived a day after the initial ambush.
The officer who survived, Lt. Rick Sauer, would remain lifelong friends with McNerney and had the responsibility of delivering the eulogy at McNerney's funeral.
"McNerney and I discussed what he wanted me to say today at his funeral, and I am honor-bound to follow his requests," said Sauer, now a retired lieutenant colonel. "First he said, 'Colonel, I want you to keep it short and simple,' next he said, and I quote: 'Tell them I was just doing my job.'"
"He and I have been together for over 44 years; I always called him first sergeant and he always called me by whatever rank I was privileged to wear," said Sauer. "We were comfortable with that and liked it; we were always Soldiers together to the end.
"When I was commissioned a second lieutenant, a colonel pinned his own second-lieutenant bars onto my shoulders. Then he gave me some advice. He said 'LT, find yourself a good noncommissioned officer and you tie yourself to him and you learn from him. He will make you a better officer, a better leader and a better Soldier.'
"I took his advice and I found that noncommissioned officer, and he was 1st Sgt. McNerney."
"He did make me a better officer, a better leader and a better Soldier. He and I have been tied together ever since, and part of that ribbon that binds us together is made up of the men of Company A, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg.; I am not the only one who was affected by him," said Sauer.
"From the newest private to the most senior general, from the kids he spoke with in the schools, from the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets at the local high school and from the veterans' groups and civic groups he spoke with, we were all made better. He demonstrated love of duty, honor and service to his country, and stands as (an) example for all," he said.
Bob Babcock, senior vice president of the National 4th Infantry Division Association, first met McNerney in the hospitality suite of the association at the dedication of the "Three Man Statue" at the Vietnam Memorial on Veterans Day 1983. He was the first Medal of Honor recipient Babcock ever met.
"He impressed me as a humble man and was already doing more than his part in attracting Vietnam veterans into the ... association," said Babcock. "He continued in that role the rest of his life."
"Since then, I have become good friends with McNerney over the past 10-plus years. I served in Vietnam at the same time as he did but didn't know him," he said. "I most likely listened to the radio traffic as the fight of Company A, 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Reg. unfolded March 22, 1967, when I was serving as the executive officer of Company B, 1st Bn., 22nd Inf. Reg., in the same general area of Vietnam."
When the 4th Inf. Div. monument on the road leading into Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., was dedicated at the 4th Inf. Div. reunion in 2001, McNerney was there to add to the event.
"One morning I saw him in the hotel lobby, not wearing his medal," said Babcock. "As president of the association, I told him to go back up to his room and get his Medal of Honor. His reply was, 'Bob, I don't want people to think I'm bragging.' I assured him they would not think that, and that he would most likely be the only Medal of Honor recipient most of them would ever meet. He went up and put on his medal."
"I'm not sure I ever saw him again without his medal around his neck - he understood he was a symbol to all Americans," said Babcock. "I believe that little exchange in the hotel lobby helped cement our friendship."
Over the years, they attended many 4th Inf. Div. events at Fort Hood, Texas, and had many meals and enjoyable times together.
McNerney retired from the military in 1969 and began a career as a customs agent in Houston.
He was buried in Crosby, Texas.