VETERAN’S DAY: Remembering ‘Jake’

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, November 11, 2009

He was a Hanging Rock boy who went to war and did his duty for his country, a self-effacing soldier who saw the hell of battle but never lost his honor, his courage or his spirit.

His friends remember him as one of America’s true heroes. Frank “Jake” McNeely died in August at his home in Bath, Mich.

McNeely the soldier

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McNeely entered the Army in November 1948 with dreams of a job and a future. At the age of 17, he wanted to see something of life beyond Hanging Rock. Little did he know his future would include more hardship than he could have ever imagined and that he would see the worst of life and the shadows of death.

When the Korean War began in June 1950, McNeely and the rest of the Army’s 2nd Division, 82nd AAA were given orders to go. By early November 1950, the war had ended and McNeely thought he would be home by Christmas.

But later that month the Chinese forces overran the 2nd Division. McNeely and others were taken captive. For the next 33 long months, the young man from Hanging Rock was a prisoner of war, surviving on an eight-ounce daily ration of cracked corn — chicken feed — and melted snow for drinking water. His first winter in prison camp was the coldest on record in Korea.

Temperatures were often 40 and 50 degrees below zero. The men were forced to march at night regardless of the temperatures and none of them had any winter gear. Some of the men taped cardboard to the bottom of their feet as makeshift boots.

Frozen hands and feet were commonplace. Packed together in mud huts, it wasn’t long before captives succumbed to the starvation, disease and winter weather.

McNeely recalled years later that when the prisoners started dying, it was not uncommon to wake up in the morning and find the person who had slept next to you had died in the night.

The rest were left suspended in a state that was not quite living and only breaths away from dying.

“Half the time when I was in (prison camp), I didn’t know if we ever would get out,” McNeely once recalled.

When he was released, the ravages of captivity required seven months of hospitalization.

Until the day he died, the wounds of war forced McNeely to take medication for stomach and heart ailments.

“My hand was infected and it was bandaged and some kind of colonel cut up my meat for me so I could eat it. He saw me trying to cut it with my hand the way it was and came over,” McNeely recalled during a 2008 interview with The Tribune.

He was discharged from the Army in 1954 and came back to Lawrence County.

In 2004, he and other veterans who traded their high school years for military service were included in graduation exercises at Rock Hill High School. In 2008, he was chosen as honorary grand marshal for the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade.

I remember Jake

To Lou Pyles, Frank McNeely was “Uncle Jake,” a hero from her hometown.

“I had known him since I was a baby,” she explained. “He was such a proud veteran. And what he went through for his country. …”

Pyles remembered McNeely as a patriot, someone who served his country with pride and courage and strong conviction.

“He was a true patriot. He loved the flag, he loved his country. What he sacrificed, he sacrificed for our freedom,” Pyles said. “I hope people remember him as a patriot. That’s what he was.”