John “Paul” McNeil, passed on July 4, 2013. Among the cherished memories, is something he would often say, “God first, family second, job third.” Not idle words, for he lived his life by them.
The flag he served was our nation‘s flag, as a Marine officer of 27 years, in three wars, retiring a full Colonel. We heard many “war stories” over the years. Yet many of them were not of battles and conflict, but of the healing that took place after war‘s end. One that stands out is when he was on tour in Japan in the early 1960’s. At this time, not long after the close of WWII, the US still had many military bases in Japan. We were actively helping the Japanese form their own Self Defense Force, so they could become our allies, and defend themselves. Dad was one of the key liaison US officers assigned to assist the Japanese military. As an honor to him at the end of his tour, the Japanese military invited him on a retreat to a remote and exclusive inn in the mountains. He was the only American on that retreat. He found out later, he was the first American invited to that inn since the end of the war. He was strong in war, and in peace.
As a family man, Dad was the head of the household. Yet he partnered with my mom Virginia, in an equal and mutually respected relationship. He was, as is Biblically directed, the spiritual head of the household. She ran the domestic ship. They made the big decisions together. They raised their two sons together. They had no girls, but loved my daughter Erin as the daughter they never had. This brave Marine, who was in combat many times, would clean up the kitchen after his wife prepared the meals. When Dad was told he would be assured of making General if he did a second tour in Viet Nam, he deferred to his wife who said, “I have followed you for 27 years, through several wars and almost 20 moves. I don’t want to lose you now”. He honored her request, and retired. He was married to his beloved Virginia for 60 years, until she passed a few years ago.
The Light of God guided him, as did the Light within his wife. Mom was raised a Seventh Day Adventist, and her father was a minister in that faith. Dad loved my mother’s faith and the biblical knowledge she gained in her upbringing. They always attended Church through their life together, and served in many ministry capacities. Though a strong soldier, Dad was a humble child of God. His granddaughter Erin has his Bible now, which she says is a bit hard to read for all his underlining of passages, and notes he made! His favorite passage: “And I will pray the Father, that he may send you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.” John 14:16. The Comforter was with Paul, I am sure, when he passed. Praise God.
A simple, heartful incident occurred on my way to visit him in Hospice, the night before he passed. My brother Mark asked me to get a US flag to place by Dad for July 4th. I had been to one store, no flags, so was heading to Waly-World, stopping for gas at a quick mart. They might have flags, I thought. No flags, but for one, a decoration over one of the isles. It was getting late, I wanted to get to Dad soon. I grabbed that flag and went to the counter. “How much is this flag?” The young African-American teen said with a knowing smile, “That flag is not for sale”, obviously having seen me. I answered, “Please, my Dad is in Hospice, he may not have long. He was in the Marines in three wars, and I want to get a flag to him for the Fourth.” She did not hesitate, looked me straight in the eye and said, “You take that flag. No one will miss it. Your dad deserves it”. I thanked her heartfully, and wish now I had asked her name. I was almost in tears as I walked out the door of that store. What a gift, for me, and my father. What a gift for our country. For though I was white, and she was black, the only colors that mattered in that moment were our nation’s colors.
My father took his oath when he became a Marine officer to defend the Constitution of the United States. Not the President, not the disgusting politicians, not the largely corrupt Congress. We have many problems confronting our nation, racial issues included. Dad’s oath was to defend a document with ideals equal to and even larger than race and religious path. Yet issues of mis-trust of our government are growing, as we stray further and further from the Constitution. This honorable and brave Marine, was heartbroken over this. Some have even said the Constitution is a worn-out old document. He believed, as do his two sons, that document was divinely inspired. Paul McNeil put his life on the line many times to defend the Constitution, and honor it. I believe Colonel Paul McNeil, through the will and Grace of God, died on Independence Day to make a statement. I believe each of us would serve our selves and our nation well to consider what statement we will make.
J Paul McNeil
ps- Erin has my family album as I post this. I will put some more pictures of the Colonel up soon. Take a look at the one of him and Virginia on a prior post here, “Distant Heart, Memorial Day”
pps- A friend has reminded me that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4 as well. My father is in good company.