Veteran Judge Pledges Support to America’s Finest
One year ago Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal journeyed overseas to commemorate the 65th anniversary of V-E Day. Neal, a 30-year Army veteran, joined a group of patriots at Pointe-Du-Hoc to honor Major Gen. James Earl Rudder, who took part in the D-Day landings as commanding officer of the U.S. Army's 2nd Ranger Battalion.
The occasion, sponsored by the Army Reserve Ambassador Program, was especially meaningful to Neal considering his personal history with Rudder:
v Neal was a member of the Texas A&M University Corps of Cadets while Rudder was Texas A&M president.
v In 1959 while in Army Ranger Class 3 at Fort Benning, Ga., Neal and his fellow soldiers studied the leadership strategies used by then-Lt. Col. Rudder on D-Day.
v In 1962 after completing his active duty tour, Neal joined the Army Reserve 90th Division and served under Commanding Gen. Earl Rudder.
As special as that ceremonial moment was, standing near a cliff top on the coast of Normandy some four miles from Omaha Beach, Neal had another experience on this European trip that touched him on an even deeper level: his visit with wounded warriors.
Neal and a fellow veteran traveled to Germany’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC), an overseas military hospital operated by the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense. A majority of serious casualties from the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters are flown to nearby Ramstein Air Base and transported to LRMC, the largest military hospital outside of the continental United States.
The patients Neal visited had been wounded just one day earlier in Iraq. The first was a 23-year-old female soldier from Minnesota, and like Neal, she was an Army reservist. She was severely wounded when an improvised explosive device (IED), or roadside bomb, detonated next to the truck she was in, on her side of the cab.
The young woman’s wounds were extensive: two broken arms, one broken leg, a mangled face, and internal injuries. But despite all this, she was alert.
The general traveling with Neal was emotionally overcome and couldn’t speak for a moment. Neal drew close to the soldier’s bedside and asked, “Young lady, is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yes,” she replied. “You can get me back to my unit.”
“This is a 23-year-old on her third deployment as a reservist,” Neal emphasized. “You see, we are asking a tremendous amount of sacrifice, not only from our active soldiers, but from our Army Reserve and National Guard.”
The second wounded warrior the pair visited expressed a similar sentiment. This young man had lost one of his legs in an airborne assault.
“The only thing that worried him was that they weren’t going to let him back in his unit and jump with only one leg,” Neal recounted. “These kids were not bitter. No, they weren’t mad at anybody.
“Instead, they said, ‘This is my job. I want to go back.’ ”
While the day spent in Germany was indeed emotional, to Neal it served “as a reinforcement to all of us regarding the great number of young people we have in this country who only want to serve.”
When asked about his own Army career, Neal is willing to share his personal history. Yet, he continually transitions to what is going on now, today, in all branches of the U.S military. Neal is especially affected by the “youth of it all.” For example, “did you know the average age of our soldiers, sailors and Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq is 19?” he asked, with a sense of incredulity.
“This country is at war, and it’s our 19-year-olds and our 20-year-olds…and thank God for them,” he declared. Of course, there is an equally valuable group of older warriors who serve alongside these young people, both in the active forces and in the reserves and guard units.
Neal launched his military career in his late teen-age years at Texas A&M, where he graduated from the Distinguished Military Science Program. Thus, he was eligible to take a regular Army commission, which he did in 1959. Neal was also allowed to pick his first duty assignment, “which I chose carefully because I wanted to be involved in units that could train me as best as possible as a brand new officer.”
A young Loyd Neal received his diploma from A&M on a Saturday and reported to active duty the following Monday at Fort Carson, Colo. His first day in the field was quite memorable, as Neal was called out for failing to wear his second lieutenant’s bars on his uniform.
“They never let me forget that,” Neal said, chuckling. “Thankfully, I had some wonderful sergeants that took care of us second lieutenants.”
Neal remained at Fort Carson for nearly three years and then resigned his regular commission, only to launch a 20-year stint in the U.S. Army Reserve. His assignments included serving as chief of staff of a two-star command headquartered in New Orleans and deploying overseas as part of Operation Bright Star, a joint military exercise with the Egyptian Army.
Neal retired in 1989 with the rank of colonel, concluding three decades of service in the U.S. Army, during which time he graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and U.S. Army War College.
“I was very fortunate,” Neal said unequivocally. “I was able to have a civilian professional career (in the insurance business) and great staff assistance that allowed me to pursue a military career in the Army Reserve, simultaneously.”
Neal also credits his wife for her “wonderful support as I missed some important holidays and birthdays during my training.
“The higher you rise in rank, the more is expected of you,” Neal explained, “and the time commitment is much greater. My wife made those sacrifices.”
Neal continued his association with the military as chairman of the South Texas Military Facilities Task Force from 1985 to 2005, during which time he was involved in base closure round negotiations in 1991, 1993 and 1995, all of which ended successfully. In 1996, when the mayor of Corpus Christi announced she would not run, Neal took an interest in the job.
“I just felt we weren’t fulfilling our destiny very well in Corpus Christi,” he recalled, citing a faltering budget and failed bond elections.
Neal was told he could not win, considering his opponent was a popular former police chief. In fact, he began his campaign “way upside down in the early polls” but emerged the victor in a runoff race. Neal was elected to three additional terms and served eight years total, the mayoral limit at that time.
“I felt like after the first two years, we got our feet on the ground,” Neal said. During his stint, Corpus Christi passed several bond elections, built a new arena and airport, raised the causeway, and was named an All-America City.
Two years after his last mayoral term, Neal learned the county judge was going to withdraw from his race.
“I looked around and decided I could take what I had learned as mayor over to the county,” Neal asserted. This time around, he was up against a popular sheriff and endured a “very spirited campaign.” Neal secured the majority vote and has been the Nueces County judge since 2007.
Throughout his public service, Neal has remained connected to the military, with his appointments by then-Gov. George Bush to the Texas Strategic Military Planning Commission (1997-02) and by Gov. Rick Perry to the Texas Military Preparedness Commission (2003-current).
On the local level, “we are a fiercely patriotic community,” Neal said, referencing area groups such as the Patriot Guard Riders which escorts young sailors and soldiers upon their homecoming with full military honors.
“Our communities have turned out overwhelmingly to support these families and publicly demonstrate our thanks to them,” he continued. “And I intend to give them that full support in Nueces County.”
For example, the county has welcomed a new veterans’ service officer who is working to ensure that all veterans understand their benefits and how they can best access support and resources.
America has made promises to these soldiers, Neal declared, promises to help them with their educations, their jobs, and their lifetime medical coverage.
“It’s up to us to keep those promises,” he maintained.
“We’re recognizing what a terrible mistake this country made with the young people who came back from Vietnam,” Neal stated emphatically. “There’s a feeling across America that we’re not going to let these soldiers return without fully recognizing their sacrifice and all that they’ve done.”
By Julie Anderson