DAVID HERBERT McNERNEY (1931 ~ ). Medal of Honor recipient David Herbert McNerney was born on June 2, 1931, in Lowell, Massachusetts. His family moved to Houston, Texas, where McNerney attended St. Thomas High School.
McNerney joined the Navy in 1949 after high school graduation. He was discharged from the Navy in 1952 and enrolled at the University of Houston, but never attended class. He joined the Army in the same year at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. McNerney was deployed to Korea during the Korean War and served two tours of duty. He also served four tours of duty during the Vietnam War. In 1961, he married Parmelia Marie Moeckel.
McNerney served in Vietnam as a First Sergeant with Company A of the First Battalion, Eighth Infantry, Fourth Infantry Division. On March 22, 1967, his unit was attacked by an enemy battalion near Polei Doc in South Vietnam. McNerney ran through enemy fire to reach the area where the fighting was at its most intense to assist with organizing a defensive perimeter. He attacked several enemy soldiers who had crept close to his position and killed them, but was knocked to the ground by a grenade in the process. Despite being injured by the explosion, he assaulted an enemy machine gun emplacement which had pinned down five soldiers beyond the defenses.
When McNerney learned that the unit commander and artillery observer were dead he took over both roles. He called in artillery fire to within 20 meters of his unit in an attempt to repulse the enemy. McNerney called for a helicopter extraction for the wounded but found his unit was out of smoke canisters used to mark landing areas. After locating a landing zone, he climbed a tree to tie an identification panel to its top branches to mark his unit's position. McNerney returned to his unit's position and organized the defenses and checked the wounded before attempting to clear the landing zone of trees.
McNerney found all of the demolition material lay beyond the defenses and left the safety of his unit to locate the abandoned explosives. McNerney blew up the trees which could have blocked the helicopters and oversaw his unit's evacuation when they arrived. Despite his injuries, McNerney remained with his unit until the next day when a new commander arrived. For his leadership of his unit that day, McNerney was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
His medal was presented to him by President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House on September 19, 1968. McNerney retired from the Army in 1969. From 1970 to 1995, he worked as the Senior Customs Inspector in Houston, Texas.
On August 24, 2004, McNerney donated his Medal of Honor to St. Thomas High School along with a scrapbook of photos picturing him with President Johnson, General William Westmoreland, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at a ceremony inducting him into the school's Hall of Honor.
Bibliography: "Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor in Texas," Capitol Visitors Center, State Preservation Board of Texas. "McNerney Donates Medal of Honor to STH Archives," St. Thomas News, St. Thomas High School, August 24, 2004, http://www.sths.org/news/index.php?action=fullnews&id=85&year=2004, May 1, 2006. Saba, Anne, "A grateful nation The highest honor," U.S. Customs Today, November 2001, http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2001/November/custoday_honor.xml, April 26, 2006.