The ship survived a month of nightly attacks. "It was just incredible the way that people … responded," McNeil said. "[The crew] even improvised booms so that the ship could fulfill its mission."
To this day, McNeil applies valuable lessons from his military career.
When the war ended, McNeil returned home, using the GI Bill to attend San Diego State University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English as well as a lifetime teaching credential. After going on to earn a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Columbia University, he embarked upon a teaching career which included establishing a combination junior-senior high school in San Diego to serve the children and grandchildren of Depression-era families that had migrated west.
But then came the Korean War in 1950, and McNeil was called back into military service. On the staff of Admiral James Doyle, Sr., commander of Amphibious Group One, McNeill’s first assignment was to keep a war diary, recording all units, equipment and artillery under the admiral’s command.
"I didn’t know anything about writing a war diary, [so] I wrote a narrative of what was happening in our sectors," McNeil recalled. "We had to monitor submarines and the air. I turned in what I thought was a war diary, and they were upset. They said, ‘You taught English, we thought you could write a war diary.’ So I learned the correct way to write it quickly — [broken down into] 24 hours, and to be exact."
Awarded four battle stars in the course of his military career, McNeil retired after serving as a commander in the Navy Reserves. He resumed his career in education in 1956, joining UCLA’s faculty and serving as co-director of teacher education with Professor Jesse Bond. In the classroom, McNeil taught curriculum and instruction, specializing in the advancement of literacy, mathematics and educational evaluation. He also pursued an interest in the development of bilingual curriculum materials, serving as a consultant for schools throughout the United States, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico. His contributions have earned him honorary degrees from universities in Mexico and China, and his curriculum publications have been translated into Arabic, Chinese and Korean.
While it’s been decades since his years in the Navy, McNeil, now 93 years old and still coming in to campus, credits those experiences for their valuable life lessons.
"I became accepting of those who are very different from me. There are so many great people who have their individual ways of making something work," he observed. "Those are probably the lessons I got out of Normandy and Okinawa. Nothing would have succeeded if only a few had been making the decisions on that ship — it had to be inclusive. And whether it’s a ship or a school, everybody’s got to be open to different ideas."
There’s also a lot to be said for having survived combat duty. After that, "a new situation doesn’t frighten you too much," McNeil said. "The one thing you know is that you’re on borrowed time. … It’s just the luck of the draw that you’re even here. Whatever happens — you can’t take it so seriously."