A Ride for Justin
KINGMAN - The Kingman community paid tribute to one its hometown heroes Saturday with a Patriot Guard Ride and ceremony honoring fallen soldier Justin McNeley.
The Patriot Guard Riders escorted the family Saturday morning from VFW Post 10386 to the Veteran's Memorial next to Locomotive Park downtown. Around 150 motorcycles were part of the procession, as well as other vehicles. Several people, including some from out of state, lined the route to wave flags and pay their respects as the procession went by.
Stephen Casey, who headed the PGR effort, said it was one of the biggest turnouts he'd seen. The Phoenix Color Guard, Marine Corps League Detachment 887, Vietnam Veteran's Association, Mohave County Sheriff's Office, Kingman Police and Fire departments, Northern Arizona Fire Department and VFW 10386 were among those that helped in the event Saturday.
Several state and city officials spoke, including state representatives Doris Goodale and Nancy McLain, Kingman Mayor John Salem, and several friends, family and others who sought to pay their respects. Many expressed how it is difficult to find the right words but they wanted to give their thanks to McNeley and his family for their service and sacrifice.
As Goodale said, "Thank you to the mom who gave him to our country. Thank you to the young man who left to ... stand with the other heroes and protect this country."
Glenn Wood, Justin McNeley's stepfather, spoke of their 25 years together and recalled several stories about Justin, including his love of cars, especially his dream car, the Dodge Challenger, which was the focus of many of their last memories of him.
He also explained what he knew and could tell about how McNeley died. McNeley and another sailor were on duty and on their way back from Camp Julian when they missed their routine check-in call. The alarm was raised immediately and troops sent out, where they found the worst had happened. The situation is still being investigated, Glenn Wood said.
Jessica Swain, who had previously sent care packages to McNeley and got to know him and his family as a result, read a poem for him Saturday and presented his mother, Sharon Wood, with a photo collage of her son. Rick Shelby of Marine Corps League Detachment 887 presented McNeley's mother with a memorial brick that they then placed into the Veteran's Memorial together. Several Gold Star mothers offered their encouragement and support.
After the ceremony, the Woods expressed their thanks to the community for the outpouring of support. They have been to three memorials now, but "this one was pretty special," Sharon said,
"He was a great son. He was always caring about his family. Not once did he have a conversation where he didn't mention family."
She also related how her son collected coffee mugs for her from places all over the world. "I've got mugs from Guam, Australia, everywhere!" Her two other children, Jerred McNeley and Sharla Carlson, honored this tradition recently when they went to Delaware for the Dignified Transfer. They brought their mother coffee mugs from Delaware as "Justin's last coffee mug for Mom."
McNeley, a Hull technician Second Class Petty Officer, served his country for nine years. Born in Wheat Ridge, Colo., in 1980, he enlisted in the Navy in 2001. He completed basic training at RTC Great Lakes and Hull Technician "HT" training at Service School Command Great Lakes.
McNeley then reported to USS NIMITZ (CVN 68) and served until 2006. He then attended Advanced Welding School, Service School Command San Diego.
After graduation, he reported to ACU ONE and served until May 2009, when he then reported to Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center San Diego for duty in Afghanistan. Petty Officer McNeley died on July 26, 2010, in Afghanistan at the age of 30. He left behind two children.
McNeley was awarded numerous medals and honors in his lifetime, including the Purple Heart, Navy Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation Award, Navy "E" Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and NATO Medal ISAF.
Those who wish to help McNeley's children are encouraged to go to www.justinmcneleyfamily.blogspot.com.