NEW CUMBERLAND, W.Va. (WTRF) – It was probably the best thing he ever did. 

That’s what Paul Neeley told 7News about a decision he made when he was 19-years-old to enlist in the Army. 

This was in 1965, during the Vietnam War. 

Neeley only spend a short part of his three years of service in Vietnam, but he said all the places he saw made for an experience he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. 

At 19 you don’t want to go, but when I look back at it now it was probably the best thing I’ve ever did because it got me out of the local area and got me to experience things I never would have otherwise. 

Paul Neeley, Veteran

For Neeley, that experience started with a choice to enter the Army. 

If you get drafted then the officials can put you in any branch of the service they want. It would be maybe the Army, the Marines or the Navy and with that you have no control. You might be in the infantry, on the front lines. I looked at that and thought ‘well can I serve honorably without being on the front lines?’.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

Recruiters placed Neeley in the motor pool. First he went to basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Next was motor repair school at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Finally, Neely was given orders for a support outfit in Korea, which was about 15-minutes outside of Seoul.

I had no idea where Korea was and I had to come home and get the globe and spin it around to see where it was it’s halfway around the world.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

Once halfway around the world Neely did his duties in his shop to keep vehicles in working order, but a lot of his time was spent interacting with the Korean people. 

If you’re an American whether you’re in the military, whether you’re a civilian, you’re traveling, you go to another country and you’re they’re guest. However you conduct yourself, what you do or don’t do, is how they view the American people.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

He even had two Koreans who worked for him in the shop.

Army outfits around the area would bring their trucks, their jeeps, their personnel carriers to us and we would fix what was wrong. Maybe change the motor. I was a welder in the shop and maybe weld up the broken frame or bumpers. I had one colleague and two Koreans working with me.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

Since they were occupational forces, Neeley said the Army instructed him to be a good representation of America, so he treated people worked with or others he met with respect. 

His outfit was also assigned to an orphanage to deliver food as part of their outreach. 

I looked and all they had to play with was a soccer ball.

I went to the company commander he said do you think you could do it. I said sure. We have all the material all we have to do is do it. He said go ahead.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

So, Neeley made the children a brand new swing set. 

This one little girl went over and touched it. They had never seen a swing set. They didn’t know what to do. All they ever had was a soccer ball. I got ahold of them and got them a push, well they got the idea real quick.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

The children used that swing set so much that Neeley recalls he had to return in about two-weeks to repair the worn out chains.

His outfit also threw the children a Christmas celebration.

You know G.I.s have a soft spot for kids.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

While most of his service was spent working, Neeley was also able to get a bit of leave to see the country around him like the Military Demarcation Line between North Korea and South Korea.

After a 13-month tour, Neeley returned to the United States. He asked to be stationed on the East Coast to be closer to family, but instead the Army put him in the motor pool in Tacoma, Washington.

The Army had different ideas.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

Neeley had hoped to finish out his remaining military contract in the U.S., but instead he was given orders for Vietnam training. That sent him to Fort Carson, Colorado where the Army was building the 5th Infantry.

If you had 90-days or less to go in the service they wouldn’t pull you. I had 103.

It was pretty intense. I thought it was kind of a waste. It probably cost the United States $13,000 to send me over there for 95-days, but I guess it was necessary. I don’t make the rules.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

He arrived in Vietnam about three months ahead of his division to prepare the equipment.

When the equipment came for the division we got it off the ships and we pulled maintenance on it and got it ready to go. When the division came over my hitch was up and I came back home.”) 

Paul Neeley, Veteran

Neeley recalls it was a very different experience than Korea.

Every morning when we got up we had to mine sweep all the roads. At nighttime everybody had to be in what they called the compound, which had barbed wire around. They closed the gates and you better not be out there because Charlie was out there and he owned the night.

Paul Neeley, Veteran

After the Army, Neeley came home in 1968 and worked at the mill (Weirton Steel) and lived what he called “the American dream” marrying his wife and raising their family.

Neeley said it’s only now that he realizes how much those three years serving meant to him, and how proud he is to have done his part. 

I didn’t do anything spectacular. I did what I had to do, but I did what I had to do. If everybody does what they have to do that’s what makes the United States so great. You serve. You do your part and if everything goes ok this is the result. You live in a free country. Show respect and just do your part.

Now I realize as I get older what it meant to not only me that I did my part, what it meant to be representing the United States in a foreign land and showing some kindness and respect because it comes back to you and it makes me proud to be a veteran.

Paul Neeley, Veteran