Column: 'The Sports Trail': Memorial Day this year alive and well in McNeal Clan

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

by David McNeal

He was just a farm kid from the Arkansas River valley who grew up growing cotton with his father, along with seven brothers and two sisters.

She was a city girl who swam at the country club and played golf and tennis. They met and married during the Great Depression in 1935 and shared many adventures and four children, three boys and one girl.

So this past weekend we celebrated the 94th birthday of Berniece McNeal, even though it wasn't her real birthday, just like Memorial Day really wasn't last weekend.

Memorial Day is actually on May 30, and so is Mom's birthday. She always liked the fact that the nation took off a few days in her honor. And that was always accompanied by a secret smile, because the real Memorial Day hero in our house was CWO-4 Glenn McNeal.

Yeah, the old country boy from the river valley was a 34-year veteran of the army and Arkansas National Guard. And that meant Mom was too.

They farmed from 1935 until 1939, when Dad figured out there was going to be a war. He moved his family to Paris, just 20 miles, and joined the guard.

When Pearl Harbor was hit on Dec. 7, 1941, much like it has been in the last seven years since 9/11, the guard was called out. Before 1942 got a decent start, the boys were moved out, to train, and then ship out overseas.

Some went to the European theater, some to the Pacific, and some to the Alaskan area. Many returned three years later. Many didn't, as National Guard casualties were high. Then five years later they were called out again for the Korean Conflict.

Now as the four original children of Glenn and Berniece gathered with all our kids, grandkids and great grandkids, the Guard is out there again in harm's way.

Last weekend we talked about the days when we were kids and Dad was gone off to war. As the youngest I have to rely on what my older siblings remember about those days. But the memories are passed down now to the children of the four.

They listen to the tales each year and pass them on with additions like, "You know. Great granddad was just like Jimmy's dad next door. He'll be back to play with Jimmy soon." We hope.

We lost my Dad in 1986, just like as a nation we've lost most of that generation. Even the 16-year-olds that sneaked into the service for WW II are in their mid-seventies now.

We gathered at Lake DeGray near Arkadelphia this year, cooked at the pavilion, splashed in the water, played games and visited until our throats were raw.

But the highlight for many of us each year is the sing-along. My nephew, Danny, and I drag out our guitars and play songs from the past as all ages sing along. Especially appropriate this year was "Where have all the flowers gone?"

In recent years, we've added one -- The Star Spangled Banner. When that moment comes, everyone quietly stands and sings as the memories of past and present run deep.

Memorial Day is alive and well in our clan.

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