On a hot summer morning, one Marine made a statement of support in honor of his fallen comrades.
Bryan Patrick McNeal of Rockwall stood at the corner of Goliad Street/State Highway 205 and Interstate 30 Sunday, wearing his dress uniform and carrying a United States flag, surrounded by 13 smaller flags, each representing one of the U.S. soldiers killed during the Aug. 26 suicide bomber attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.
McNeal started his watch at 10 a.m., spending 10 minutes for each of the 13.
“So, I did it until 12:10 p.m.,” he said. “I had decided the day before and I knew that I was going to do this.”
McNeal has done similar vigils in the past.
“I’ve done one for every police officer’s funeral since the Dallas five,” McNeal said, in reference to the July 2016 massacre of five police officers in downtown Dallas.
“I’ve done two in Rockwall,” he said, which included the May 2018 funeral for Dallas police Officer Rogelio Santander.
But the previous events have never drawn the type of attention and publicity as what McNeal accomplished on Aug. 29. The vigil has been the source of multiple newspaper and television stories, not to mention how the public greeted McNeal on that morning.
McNeal said his friend, Rockwall County Sheriff Terry Garrett, pointed out the difference.
“He said, ’Now everybody has seen it,’” McNeal said.
McNeal retired from his career in the Marine Corps in 2009, going to work for Andrews Distributing.
“They support everything I do,” McNeal said. “They help me do a lot of stuff.”
McNeal said he wasn’t looking for notoriety from Sunday’s event and never has during his previous vigils.
“I’ve always flown under the radar,” he said.
But this particular occasion struck him personally.
“I was just upset that 13 lives were lost for what I feel was no reason at all,” McNeal said. “They just didn’t need to die so young.”
He made the decision to dress in his uniform, take the 13 flags which were already posted along the front yard of his residence, collect a selection of patriotic music and a speaker and set out.
“And I’m just going to honor these lives and that is what I did,” McNeal said.
The gesture struck the hearts of untold passersby on that morning. McNeal said there were constant shouts of people waving from their vehicles, honking and shouting worlds of encouragement. A few even stopped to give him hugs and handshakes.
“Five or six people got out of their cars and saluted me,” he said.
The morning drew hotter the later it got, and McNeal said it was getting rough wearing the uniform during the post, until from out of nowhere he felt a stirring and cool breeze blow through, leaving him refreshed and feeling even more determined to complete the task.
“In my heart I felt that was the 13 going, “We’ve got you,’” McNeal said.
Afterward, he returned to his truck to find bottles of water and letters of appreciation had been dropped off, as well as his fiancee, Sherre McKee Chitty, who had also been waiting under the bridge for his return.
McNeal said Sherre is a police officer and a reserve constable in Kaufman County.
“We just have a service house,” McNeal said, as he thanked everyone for the reception he has received.
“The outpouring of support has been so overwhelmingly wonderful,” he said, making it clear that the event was not for him, but for the 13.
“This is their story,” McNeal said.
And it is a story which will continue, as McNeal plans to join a contingent from the “Metroplex Marines” group at the Bass Pro Shop in Grapevine, starting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, seeking donations for the families of the 13, as well as to meet with anyone wanting to talk.