MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The Candor, N.Y., native towers over the average sized man. His body’s muscular shape along with his spike-faded haircut automatically tells you he is a member of the armed forces.
For Private First Class Daniel W. McNeil the 2003 Tioga Center High School graduate, joining the military wasn’t on his mind at the beginning of his senior year of high school.
McNeil worked for D and B Express as a tractor-trailer maintenance worker for more than two years while volunteering at a Christmas-tree farm part time during the course of his high school career.
Hanging out with friends and going to parties was the biggest thing on his mind during his senior year. According to McNeil, a single moment after graduating altered the course of this young man’s life.
“It might sound stupid, but my girlfriend broke up with me shortly after high school, and I was heartbroken. I wanted to get as far away from her as I could, so I looked into the military,” McNeil explained.
Looking at all of the branches of service, McNeil was dazzled by one branch in particular, the Marine Corps.
“I saw that recruiter in his dress blue uniform, and I simply said to myself, ‘Wow, that could be me someday,” McNeil explained, his dimples deepening as he smiled.
McNeil took the challenge of one of the toughest training experiences in the armed forces; Marine Corps recruit training. According to McNeil, he soon found himself standing in a spotlight staring at the most intimidating person he has ever met, his drill instructor.
“Standing on those yellow footprints in Parris Island, S.C., was the scariest moment in my life. I was in another world where I didn’t know anything. I wanted to get back on the bus and go home,” he explained.
Going home for McNeil means returning to a place where everyone knows each other and where the adults who live there, grew up there.
“Everyone back home basically gets along because everyone and their families are so close to each other. My teachers were friends with my parents when they were growing up. That tells you enough about my town. People love it so much, they never leave,” he explained.
When McNeil made the decision to leave home and join the Marines, he made a decision that makes him and his family proud.
“Even though I joined for a stupid reason, I found out that joining the Marine Corps was the best thing I ever did,” he continued. “It feels good knowing that I am doing something worth doing. Knowing that I overcame a challenge, gives me a sense of pride in myself that I didn’t have before.”
Leaving home was a hard thing for this young personnel clerk to do, but the gratitude he gets from strangers when he walks down the street is enough for him.
“I’ve had people come up to me and thank me for what I do. I never had that before when I was just partying and having fun. So, I know that joining the Marine Corps was what I was meant to do. My original reason for joining turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.”