Vietnam War hero who braved enemy fire for his men honored by old unit

by Vern Evans

Soldiers recently gathered at the headquarters of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, for a ceremony to rename the building after a Medal of Honor recipient who earned the decoration for his heroism during the Vietnam War, including for running through enemy fire, while wounded, to stop a machine-gunner firing on his unit.

1st Sgt. David McNerney, the namesake of the newly dubbed McNerney Hall, risked his life to lead his fellow soldiers while serving in a 4th ID unit that was attacked by a North Vietnamese battalion near Polei Doc, Vietnam.

The June 20 renaming ceremony paid tribute to a soldier who exemplified courage and offered the division’s current “Ivy soldiers” an example of selfless service to aspire to.

“I hope that every day when we walk through these doors, we can live up to the legacy of 1st Sgt. McNerney,” said 4th Infantry Division Command Sgt. Maj. Alex Kupratty, according to a press release.

On March 22, 1967, McNerney assumed command as the first sergeant of Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division after his commander and field artillery forward observer died during an attack on their unit by enemy forces.

McNerney remained with his troops until the following day when a new commander arrived, despite his injuries, the press release noted. He adjusted artillery fire to within a short distance of the unit’s position to repel the enemy attack and repeatedly braved enemy fire, exposing himself to danger to fight the enemy and get the wounded evacuated.

McNerney received the Medal of Honor in 1968 and retired from military service the year after. He died from lung cancer in 2010.

“The renaming ceremony is such an honor,” said McNerney’s niece Ellen Ebert, according to the release. “We know that David would be more than moved. He would be so full of gratitude, and the whole family is.”

1st Sgt. David McNerney’s Medal of Honor citation can be read in its entirety below:

1st Sgt. McNerney distinguished himself when his unit was attacked by a North Vietnamese battalion near Polei Doc. Running through the hail of enemy fire to the area of heaviest contact, he was assisting in the development of a defensive perimeter when he encountered several enemy at close range. He killed the enemy but was painfully injured when blown from his feet by a grenade. In spite of this injury, he assaulted and destroyed an enemy machine-gun position that had pinned down five of his comrades beyond the defensive line. Upon learning his commander and artillery forward observer had been killed, he assumed command of the company. He adjusted artillery fire to within 20 meters of the position in a daring measure to repulse enemy assaults. When the smoke grenades used to mark the position were gone, he moved into a nearby clearing to designate the location to friendly aircraft. In spite of enemy fire he remained exposed until he was certain the position was spotted and then climbed into a tree and tied the identification panel to its highest branches. Then he moved among his men readjusting their position, encouraging the defenders and checking the wounded. As the hostile assaults slackened, he began clearing a helicopter landing site to evacuate the wounded. When explosives were needed to remove large trees, he crawled outside the relative safety of his perimeter to collect demolition material from abandoned rucksacks. Moving through a fusillade of fire he returned with the explosives that were vital to the clearing of the landing zone. Disregarding the pain of his injury and refusing medical evacuation, 1st Sgt. McNerney remained with his unit until the next day when the new commander arrived. 1st Sgt. McNerney’s outstanding heroism and leadership were inspirational to his comrades. His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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