by Sgt. 1st Class R.J. Lannom Jr.
Georgia Army National Guardsmen from the Marietta-based 138th Chemical Company, currently activated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, had a unique opportunity to serve one of their own in Kennesaw, Ga., on May 7, 2020.
The Guardsmen are serving as infection control team specialists, with the mission to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in at-risk communities. Elderly residents of long-term care facilities are among the most susceptible to the virus. The Georgia National Guard has performed virus mitigation at more than 700 of these facilities since the initiation of the ICT mission on April 1, 2020.
The Georgia Guardsmen of the 138th drew the assignment of mitigating the Gaines Park Senior Living Center located in Kennesaw, a small town just north of Atlanta. There they met resident, Millard C. Neeley.
Neeley, a 97-year-old World War II B-17 Flying Fortress door gunner, enlisted in the Army Air Corps on Nov. 2, 1942, at 19. After basic training, he shipped to England with the 8th Army Air Force, who performed the daylight bombing raid missions over Nazi Germany throughout the war.
Neeley’s aircrew completed the tour-required 35 bombing missions during the campaign. To put that in perspective, the odds of surviving any given mission over Europe were one in ten. If a crew had completed ten successful missions, the odds were stacked against the aircrew for the next 25.
So rare was the accomplishment, 8th Army Air Force performed ceremonies for a very rare military club, irreverently called, “The Lucky Bastard Club” honoring the courage, skill and luck of the aircrews to finish a tour in the European Theater successfully.
Meeting “M.C.,” as Neeley goes by, allowed the Guardsmen to learn first-hand about a Soldier’s experiences in World War II while filling a critical need to prevent COVID-19 infection at the residence.
“That was really cool,” said Spec. Weldon Whitlock, chemical operations specialist, 138th Chemical Company. “To meet someone from World War II who is still around today is an honor.”
The visit also allowed Georgia Army National Guardsman, Brig. Gen. John T. Gentry, commander, 78th Troop Command, the opportunity to thank him for his service and show Neeley once you are a Soldier, you are a Soldier for Life.
Gentry spoke with Neeley and the Guardsmen about the importance of honoring members of the Greatest Generation and learn what they can from World War II veterans. They answered the call to service from across the country shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“The enemy and location may change, whether it’s overseas against a physical enemy or here in Georgia against an invisible one,” said Gentry. “You are walking the path of Soldiers who had come before and answered the call to service.”
Gentry presented M.C. with his one-star commander’s coin honoring his service and dedication to the United States.
During this moment in time, M.C. appeared to be a young airman again. He was hanging out with Soldiers as he did over 75 years ago. He stood a little taller, his voice was steadier. He thanked the Guardsmen for their service and hard work during the pandemic. He reminded them, “I flew 35 missions and never got hurt, I’m entitled to a lifetime membership in the “Lucky Bastard Club.”