Meet Harry McNeely, who I interviewed at Whataburger from the small country town of Graham, Texas. First, I ordered a cup of orange soda for him and we sat down at a booth. Mr. McNeely felt his service was insignificant because he came in at the last months of World War II….
Mr. McNeely was 17 in Dallas, Tx when he saw a sign on the street saying "Recruit In The Coast Guard!" He wanted to enlist and thought the Coast Guard would be perfect for him. Mr. McNeely then went to sign up but since he was 17, the recruiters told him he needed his parents permission.
He returned one day prior to his 18th birthday and was put on a train to Baltimore, MA for boot camp that same day. In his words he told me of his most memorable moment in boot camp; "I was standing guard outside in the cold, the commander came out of his office and so I saluted him. He saluted back and asked me what the temperature was. I replied; " 18 degrees, Sir." My commander thanked me and walked off."
At first, Mr. McNeely wanted to be an engineer for diesel engines. The Coast Guard gave the new recruits a test for copying Morse code messages. "Many of the other guys did terribly at it but I managed to get most of it correct but it helped that I knew how to type already."
Mr. McNeely passed the test, was then made Radio Operator 3rd class and was put on a train to Maimi, Florida. From Maimi, he was put on a plane to Jamaica then to Panama. By this time, it was the spring of 1945, the Germans were in the process of surrendering and Mr. McNeely said he did not see any U-boats.
He served in the destroyer escort U.S.S. Falgout DE-324. For four months, his job was to copy the Morse code messages that were being received. "We had 8 hour shifts and a total of 4 operators. There was many moments of boredom and often times some of the guys would smoke a cigarette and have the radio on, sometimes the news but mostly music. One day, I asked the messenger to deliver a message that came in to the captain, I didn't understand the messages but apparently the messenger did. He began shouting "The War Is Over!" all over the ship. The captain soon asked for me and asked "How is it the whole crew knows about this but I was last?" I replied "Sorry sir, the messenger got real excited." The captain replied with an "Ah."
Mr.McNeely loved to tell people he was born in Italy and see the reaction on everyone’s faces. Then he told them he was born in Italy, Tx.
After two hours had past exchanging stories, it was time to go. We got up, shook hands and I told him; “Thank you for your service.” I asked him if he had any family who served, he replied; “I had two uncles, one in North Africa and another in the Pacific.I had many friends who went overseas(at this point he became teary eyed) one of my friends was in three battles in France..he was wounded several times...had horrible stories about it….I think he eventually went home after the last time he was wounded.”
Thank you for your service Mr. McNeely