Duplin names 2 to county Hall of Fame
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 8, 2009 1:50 AM
Retired NATO commander Gen. Dan McNeill, of Warsaw, stands with a portrait of the late James Millard "Jim" Smith of the Mill Swamp community. McNeill and Smith were inducted Thursday night into the Duplin County Hall of Fame.
KENANSVILLE -- Retired four-star Army general and former NATO commander Gen. Dan K. McNeill was inducted Thursday night into the Duplin County Hall of Fame, standing alongside the portrait of deceased Hall of Fame recipient James Millard Smith.
"I've been lucky in life and in love," McNeill said, after receiving the award medallion.
Born in Warsaw in 1946 as the second of four children, McNeill was chosen by the anonymous selection committee in recognition of his more than 40 years of dedicated military service.
"Our living inductee devoted a lifetime of service leading American troops, as well as troops of many other nations, as they have gone into harm's way to defend the lives of simple people who want to live in freedom," presenter Davis Brinson said. "This valiant man has encouraged men and women dodging snipers' bullets and deadly IEDs in combat, conferred with presidents and prime ministers in working out diplomatic policy and shared meals with humble Afghan villagers who seek only to live quiet lives of dignity and peace."
McNeill worked alongside his uncles and their families on their farm just east of Faison during the summers when he was a young man, where he developed a love of the outdoors and spent "countless days and endless hours" hunting and fishing.
"His sister commented to me that there was nothing he would rather do growing up than spend all his free time hunting and fishing," Brinson said. "...When her friends would ask her about the possibility of her setting them up with him, she would quickly inform them that if you don't hunt, fish or own a bird dog, he is not interested."
As a student attending James Kenan High School, he helped the 1960 Class A football team, under the leadership of Coach Bill Taylor, claim the state championship. He graduated in 1964 and began attending North Carolina State University.
"At that time, many major universities, including N.C. State, required compulsory Reserve Officer Training Corps training for all of their male students," Brinson said. "It was through his participation in the ROTC program that our inductee found his niche in life."
McNeill graduated from college in 1968, with a bachelor's degree in wood and paper sciences and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army infantry, and assigned as a protocol officer (counterinsurgency) at the U.S. Army's John F. Kennedy Center for Military Assistance at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C.
While serving in Vietnam, McNeill's younger brother, Clarence, known by the nickname "Boone" around Warsaw, lost his life in service of his country in a plane crash in Laos in 1969.
"Such a loss could have caused lesser men to question a life spent in military service, yet our inductee chose to dedicate himself to just that path. He would spend the next 40 years in the service of his country," Brinson said. "During his career, he compiled a record of outstanding service both at home and abroad that eventually led to his being designated a four-star general in 2004, the highest rank a soldier can hold in the United States Army at the present time."
McNeill graduated from Command and General Staff College, the Army's equivalent to graduate school, in 1989, served as commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division in 1998 and commanded Fort Bragg's 18th Airborne Corps, 2002-04.
He served as chief of staff and deputy commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, the Army's largest major command, 2004-06, and commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, 2006-08, the command he held at the time of his retirement. He has served tours of duty in Vietnam, Korea, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan and numerous stateside posts.
The retired general served in five military campaigns, and received many medals and commendations, including the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with four bronze oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star with two bronze oak leaf clusters, Expert Infantryman badge and Master Parachutist Badge with gold combat star.
McNeill and his wife of 37 years, Maureen, met during an arranged date at a military ball. They have one son, a graduate of Wake Forest University who is serving as an assistant district attorney in Charlotte.
"He is himself a modest American and Duplin County citizen whose proudest boast is, 'I'm from Warsaw.' He has trumpeted that fact all over the world wherever his many years of military service have taken him," Brinson said. "Above all, he credits his family and his education with helping lead him in the positive paths that he has followed with such skill and dedication."
The Hall of Fame selection committee also honored James Millard "Jim" Smith with the posthumous award for 2009. Smith, a "true gentleman" born in Wilson County in 1919, settled in Duplin County in 1947 and lived a lifetime of service to his community and Duplin County, presenter Marilynn Kornegay Hroza said.
"As a young man living in the southern part of Duplin County in the 1940s and 50s, he saw the need for development in our rural county," Mrs. Hroza said. "He knew that technology and educational opportunities were important for the growth of Duplin County."
Smith made many contributions to different aspects of life in the county and state. He is credited with bringing the first telephone service to the Chinquapin area, and he also helped to provide the local Little League Baseball team with a home playing field.
A strong proponent for education, Smith served as a member of the East Duplin High School Advisory Board and also served on the Board of Trustees for Wilmington College, where he worked for six years to have the college adopted into the University of North Carolina university system.
"He was not only concerned about the education of students in his community, but knew that southeastern North Carolina needed additional opportunities for higher education," Mrs. Hroza said.
Smith was a pioneer in updating Duplin General Hospital to a more modern medical facility during the 1960s and '70s, and served as trustee and treasurer for the hospital during its expansion and renovation program.
Gov. Bob Scott appointed Smith as a State Highway Commissioner representing Duplin, Lenoir and Sampson counties in 1968, a post he filled for four years. Smith was "instrumental" in the development of interstate I-40, and he also helped to implement other major highway projects including widening N.C. 24.
The honoree also worked to expand agriculture in Duplin County and assisted in the development of the cucumber growing and grading industry in southeastern Duplin County. He was a member of the Top Farmers of America Association and participated in the 1969 Top Farmers of America World Agricultural Mission, receiving an award of honor from the organization.
"In remembering all of the accomplishments which enriched his community, county, region and state, I am certain that he would have placed his commitment to his family and his neighbors and his 58 years as an active member of Shiloh Baptist Church as the most important part of his life," Mrs. Hroza said. "... From the time he first came to the Mill Swamp community, before there was even a telephone line, until his death in 2004, our honoree tonight, through his vision and public service, helped to usher Duplin County into the 21st century."
Smith's surviving family and widow, Alline, accepted the award.
"On behalf of our family, I am so glad to accept this award," Mrs. Smith said. "Jim would be so appreciative, and we thank you so much."
About 260 people attended the annual awards banquet, which was held at the Country Squire Restaurant. The recipients' names will be added to the Hall of Fame plaque.