MIDLAND, Texas — The Vietnam War claimed the lives of 3,014 Texans. 225 of them came from right here in the Permian Basin.
These were brothers, husbands and sons. But for local Vietnam Veteran Bill McNeill, some of them were his best friends.
McNeill was born in Alpine, grew up in Midland and at 18 years old enlisted himself into the Navy.
At 20, he celebrated his birthday about 8,700-hundred-miles from home in Vietnam.
“I was in the Navy's special force. I rode boats in an area called Rừng Sác," McNeill said. "My job was to keep the enemy from moving supplies up and down the river line.”
For McNeill, whose dad and uncles all fought in World War II, enlisting was just another part of life.
“Every generation of warriors of this country has done it for their kids, for the next generation," McNeill said. "So the next generation could live as free, safe and as comfortable as the folks before them did.”
McNeill dedicated six years of his life to the Navy.
“People come out and say thanks you know, and I wonder why?" McNeill said. "I mean we’re not heroes, the heroes are the ones who are in the cemeteries who they gave their lives for this country.”
For McNeill, he knew many of those who gave their lives during the Vietnam War.
“My best friend Curtis McKinney was killed," McNeill said. "A lot of my classmates are right here on this wall.”
That is why McNeill does not just make time to stop by the Permian Basin Vietnam Veterans Memorial on certain holidays, he comes by often, all throughout the year.
It wasn't until this memorial was built in 1994 that McNeill began to realize what the rest of us already knew-he too is a hero.
“I come quite often, a lot of times come out here to be alone to be with my brothers," McNeill said. "This memorial got me to realize that being in Vietnam Veteran was not a bad thing.”
“I’m proud that I was a Vietnam Vet. I never talked about it till I got involved with building this memorial and found out I wasn't alone."
McNeill says he now realizes he did a good job and that, like other vets, his time in the service was worth something.
"Never forget, never forget that freedom is not free”
Never alone, and never forgotten.