Fort Carson soldiers gathered in formation Thursday during a ceremony with a simple lesson.
The event honored 1st Sgt. David McNerney, a Vietnam War hero died in Texas last year and in his will left his Medal Honor to troops in Colorado Springs.
Friends, family members and comrades talked about McNerney and what he did in 1967 to earn the medal during a day long firefight in the jungle. They talked about McNerney’s generosity, loyalty to family and uncompromising values.
Soldiers with Fort Carson’s A Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, McNerney’s old unit, heard all that and something else.
“I have some huge shoes to fill,” said 1st Sgt. Andrew Whittingham, who holds McNerney’s old job.
The medal will be displayed at the Mountain Post Historical Center near the post’s main gate and commanders will use it to teach young soldiers about the commitment it takes to serve in the Army.
Col. Mike Kasales, who heads the post’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team said the medal shows soldiers something that commanders try and often fail to get through to the troops.
“Being a soldier is more than just meeting the standard,” he said.
McNerney earned the medal for saving the lives of dozens of his troops through a day of unquestionably heroic acts. He took on an enemy machine gun nest single-handed. He repeatedly braved enemy fire to pull wounded soldiers to safety. With bullets flying all around, he grabbed an orange panel and climbed a tree to mark his company’s position, allowing aircraft to bomb the enemy.
But McNerney, in life and in death, said the medal — the nation’s highest decoration for valor — was never really his. Friends say the old sergeant thought by giving the medal to Fort Carson, he was returning it to its rightful owners.
Rick Sauer, who served with McNerney in the firefight and was one of several dozen Vietnam veterans who traveled to Fort Carson for the rites, said he knew what the sergeant would have said at the ceremony.
“He would have turned to the soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division and said ‘Thank you for your service’,” Sauer said.
Capt. Tom Angstadt, who now commands McNerney’s old company, said the gift to Fort Carson will teach his soldiers that the future is built on the lessons of the past.
“It is bigger than one person,” he said.
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