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Tue, Nov 30, 2004

US Army Says Goodbye To Aviation Legend

WO 5 Bobbie McNeal Is Heading Into The Sunset

If you ask the commander of the Army's 11th Aviation Regiment, he'll tell you that Chief WO 5 Robert "Bobbie" McNeal is a real aviation legend.

"His entire career, he has been leading by example," Col. George Bilafer said, in remarks at McNeal’s Nov. 5 retirement ceremony. The ceremony was held at the Illesheim base theater in Germany to accommodate everyone who attended. "He is the epitome of the warrant officer corps. Bobby is an absolute legend in Army aviation."

The European edition of the venerable Stars and Stripes reports McNeal began his military career as a door gunner in Vietnam. That was in 1966. He attended flight school in 1969 and became one of a very few black Army pilots. In 1970, McNeal returned to Vietnam as an AH-1 Cobra pilot (McNeal, wearing hat, shown in Vietnam during second tour, below). On that second tour, McNeal flew 1,756 combat missions.

Did he run into much racism during that politically charged era? No, McNeal told Stars And Stripes -- not much.

"When I was a crew chief, there was one guy in my unit who used the ‘N-word’ a lot around me," McNeal told the soldier's newspaper. "He said he didn’t want me in his platoon. In nine months, I had gone from E-3 to E-5, and this guy was still a specialist 4 after 13 years of service."

For his last flight, a day before his retirement ceremony, the runway was doused by firehoses and McNeal, upon the flight's completion, was doused with champagne.

"When you get older, your reflexes aren’t as refined," McNeal said. "I knew this time had to come, but I’m going to miss flying. It’s been a great career. I've reached my dream and made friends all over the world. I feel truly blessed."

McNeal's commander says he'll miss the veteran aviator. So will the other pilots he's mentored as a flight instructor and senior warrant officer through the years. "Army aviation is in good hands because (McNeal) has taught us what right looks like," Bilafer said.



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