By NANETTE LIGHT
Published: 29 January 2012 11:14 PM
Days before he celebrated his 90th birthday, Ray McNeil said he shouldn’t be alive.
It wasn’t the trials of old age that the Rockwall resident, whose birthday was Wednesday, said should have killed him.
It was in the B-24 — “the coffin.”
“When I got an overseas assignment, I didn’t expect to come home, and I certainly didn’t expect to survive 50 missions,” said McNeil, who survived 65 bombing missions while serving in the Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II, first as a flight engineer and then as a pilot. “I never thought I’d get to this age.”
McNeil served in the 449th Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force, receiving two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 13 Air Medals.
He said his toughest target was an oil field site critical to Nazi war production in Ploesti, Romania, where he said the flak was so thick that the group of 40 aircraft in front of him would disappear.
“They say if you survived one fly over Ploesti, you made it,” he said. “I survived six.”
McNeil, who completed missions over southern France, Germany and the Balkan Islands, said he was already five missions over the required 50 for service in the Air Forces when he realized he had surpassed the bar, and he opted to stay for 10 more.
“You could tell the war was running down, and I thought, as long as they needed people, I’d hold in a little longer. But at 65, I’d had enough,” he said. “To me, he’s a real hero, but, of course, he’d say the real heroes are the ones who didn’t come home,” said Mike Sanders, who teaches 10th-grade social studies at Rockwall High School and has lived in McNeil’s neighborhood for about 10 years. McNeil routinely comes to Sanders’ class to tell war stories to accompany the class’s World War II unit.
A narration of McNeil’s war stories — such as his backstage attendance at a London meeting among military brass such as Gen. George Patton and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to outline the D-Day plan — also can be found at the U.S. Library of Congress as part of its Veterans History Project.
Reposted from The Dallas Morning News