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Aransas Pass Progress
Aransas Pass Military Veterans Made a Life Together in Service
By Mark Silberstein,
Miriam Neill, 64, and husband David Neill, 59, both served in the U.S. Navy in completely opposite roles, their careers crossing paths and at different times until they chose to tie the knot together. February 28, Miriam retired from the U.S. Postal Service after more than 35 years, including stops in Ingleside and finally, Aransas Pass. Aransas Pass Progress
David as he appeared at age 19. In the Navy he was trained in antisubmarine warfare tactics, and knew how to handle shipboard defense systems, too, here manning a 20mm chain gun during the Persian Gulf War. As his ball cap signifies, he is an Operation Desert Storm veteran. Courtesy: David Neill
Miriam as she appeared around age 30, the name plate on her uniform reflecting that of a previous marriage. The Baton Rouge, LA native served as a dispersing (payroll) clerk in the Navy. Courtesy: Miriam Neill
Courtesy: David Neill
Aransas Pass Progress
VETERAN’S VOICES: MIRIAM AND DAVID NEILL, U.S. NAVY
Over time their paths have crossed, though both were oblivious to the fact until much later when Miriam and David Neill dated, and then wed, their union approaching three decades as a couple, both having served in the United States Navy. The Aransas Pass pair remain active in veteran’s affairs, members of the Patriot Guard Riders, motorcyclists who’ve been in the Armed Services and act as honor guards at special ceremonies, principally leading salutes to their fallen comrades as part of funeral processions.
David, 59, and Miriam, 64, are Life Members of the Ingleside VFW Post 6386, enjoying activities like gumbo cookoffs, each trying to outdo the other when it comes to recipes. They speak with pride about wearing a uniform and defending our nation against all enemies. Both have also begun a new chapter in their lives now that Miriam has retired from the U.S. Postal Service after more than 35 years behind a counter, including work she’s done in both the Ingleside and Aransas Pass branches, the latter being her final assignment.
A naval airman, David never flew attack planes. His role was aboard ships in support of units that were deployed with missions to seek out and destroy submarines in time of war. But he also knew how to operate shipboard weaponry, one image he shared is his gunnery position on a vessel at sea prepared to fire 20mm rounds during the Persian Gulf War. Among the Navy ships he spent time on include the famed aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Saratoga.
Miriam’s role in the service was vastly different, principally shorebased, much of it as a dispersing (payroll) clerk. Her favorite station was in Orlando, FL where new recruits in the Navy got their paychecks from her.
A native of Baton Rouge, LA, Miriam’s mother divorced when she was a small child. When she remarried her construction worker spouse traveled extensively for work, so wherever he went, so did the family, relocating often, she recalled. They would end up in Key West, FL where Miriam would meet her first husband, admitting she wed and divorced two times before she met David, the encounter establishing a degree of stability and permanence she hadn’t known until then.
For 10 years, 11 months and 22 days, Miriam served in the Navy between 1981-1992. She regrets none of it. If anything, she beat the odds, at least as far as she’s concerned.
“I went in from the very bottom and worked my way up to a Second-Class Petty Officer when I got out,” she said, explaining that she felt she had attained the highest rank she could under the circumstances and the Navy simply didn’t have more opportunity for advancement in an enlisted role such as hers.
Boot camp for Miriam was in Orlando, FL, the physical agility training proving a challenge.
“It was not as easy as I thought it was going to be,” Neill shared.
Her first assignment was in Jacksonville, FL at the Naval Air Station, known as Cecil Field, part of a helicopter training squadron. It’s also where she launched her vocational career in the military, trained to be a member of a personnel support detachment, eventually working in a disbursing office – handling payroll.
“Sea duty was mandated,” she described the role, discussing the first of many ships she’d serve aboard in her defined role, the U.S.S. Canopus, a submarine tender. It would be docked at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the journey there full of rough waters, so bad that many crewmen became ill because of the up and down rocking from the waves.
From eastern seaboard to west, Miriam’s next assignment was at Camp Coronado, one of several units that made up the Navy’s massive presence in San Diego, CA. To access where she worked required Neill traverse a steep bridge connecting the mainland to a tiny island where the Coronado air station was based.
There, she served aboard the U.S.S. Samuel Gompers, a destroyer tender, designed to be a floating repair ship for the Navy. It’s also when in July of 1992 Miriam had had enough, deciding that there was no more room for her to advance in rank.
“That was the end of my Navy career,” she said with no regrets, remaining in California to work in a civilian capacity. Two years later she met David, face-to-face, both choosing to settle as a couple along the Gulf coast of Texas where Miriam found her first job in Aransas Pass as a drive-through teller for what was known then as Pacific Southwest Bank, now Prosperity Bank.
Neill had a photographic memory, capable of storing precise account numbers in her head, becoming so proficient at it that when customers drove up, she’d already filled out the paperwork she knew they’d want for a deposit, or other services. One woman recognized Miriam’s talent and suggested that she apply for work with the Postal Service, her memory skills expected to be useful in the examination required as a prerequisite. The customer was right, and Neill transitioned her career in a whole new direction, one that ended February 28 when she retired at the Aransas Pass branch after more than 35 years, having previously worked at post offices in Portland and Ingleside, too.
Retiring was a decision Miriam didn’t make just due to age. Few knew that she’s been dealing with a chronic health issue she revealed is the result of her exposure to Covid- 19. Last November, Neill became so ill she wasn’t certain she would recover fully.
Standing long hours every day, often working as much six days a week and on average 55 hours a week, Miriam described becoming winded, unable to breathe. One day she came home, sweating, her temperature measured 99.8 degrees. A cardiologist and a pulmonologist in Corpus Christi examined her, confirming her worst fears of the impact the pandemic had on her overall health.
“It’s why she retired two years before she wanted to,” commented David.
“When I get to where I’m winded, I don’t like it,” Miriam said, still putting on a bold face, smiling, devoted to her husband and the strong support that he unwaveringly provides.
She explained how her current health has impacted her personal life, discussing when David and her travel with the Patriot Guard Riders at ceremonial events.
“I sit on the sidelines,” she said, unable to stand with the rest of the motorcyclists who ‘show the colors’, grasping flags they hold in salute of a military funeral procession. “I couldn’t breathe,” she admitted.
“It’s no fun,” Miriam continued, revealing ongoing bouts of chronic respiratory distress. “I can’t do what I like to do.”
Given David’s personal tribulations it’s a wonder the two met when they did and their devotion to one another has sustained itself in all the years since.
“He was known as Snowman,” Miriam laughed, the nickname David was affectionately given, spurned by his first wife.
“I had a cold heart,” he said after the divorce, hence the reason behind the perhaps unflattering reference.
Miriam, on the other hand, he called “Fire cat”, he said, because she was so playful, an attitude she believes is associated with her Zodiac sign, a Gemini. Their first encounter was at a Country and Western bar in San Diego.
Originally from San Antonio, David and his parents moved to Aransas Pass when he was 11 years old. His father and grandfather both served in the Navy, so when the time came it seemed only natural, he did the same.
“We followed each other all over the country,” David laughed as he reminisced about all the places he and Miriam would be stationed, for years never knowing one another until circumstance brought them together.
Neill attended a search and rescue school in the Navy, then transitioned into the field of antisubmarine warfare tactics, becoming proficient in operating sonar. Deployed during the Persian Gulf War, part of Operation Desert Storm, the Middle Eastern waters he patrolled were too shallow for subs to navigate, much of his time assigned to man deck guns, prepared to fend off an attack from the surface, or the air.
Eventually, Neill was reassigned to the Navy Station Ingleside, and the U.S.S. Devastator, a minesweeper vessel. His technical skills were applied to servicing and maintaining remote operated vehicles (ROV’s) that the ship would deploy at sea to assess mines and help destroy by attaching detonators.
“My weight was always an issue with me,” David shared, explaining how in 1996 he failed three times to pass an annual physical readiness check, leading to a discharge.
In civilian life he received retraining opportunities through the Veterans Administration, never fully landing a job he’d be most satisfied having. Eventually a lower back injury made it impossible to keep working and in time he’s been certified 100-percent disabled.
A property that remains in the Neill family became the former headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 25 in Aransas Pass. The building still stands, but has been vacant for years, the troop long disbanded. He’s hoping one day to just donate it to a charitable foundation.
Now, there’s time for David and Miriam to spend with each other. They’ll continue to travel for the Patriot Guard Riders, and enjoy activities and the camaraderie of fellow veterans at the VFW. When asked if both would serve their country all over again, there was no hesitation.