Salute to the Restless Preacherís Boy


4323 South Lookout, Little Rock, AR 72205

Preachersí sons have to be tougher. They have to prove it, too. Not only do they have to prove it, but they also have to prove it every day.

Sonny Neely was a good-looking kid. That didnít help his status a bit. He liked to show off. He could be tactless sometimes when he became the center of attention. He drove his dadís car too fast and he worried my mother something awful. Naturally, I liked him.

In the late 1930s in Searcy we were at a rebellious age and he did things I wanted to do, but didnít always have the nerve Ė at least without him. Adolescence amounts to emotional confusion. Being neither man nor boy but a little of both is an awkward, uncomfortable state.

His dad was the pastor of our church, First Presbyterian, for about three years. He resigned and left under the shadow of controversy.

After I moved to Little Rock, Sonny came by once or twice for visits. In the fall of 1941, I enrolled in North Texas State Teachers College (now North Texas University) at Denton. I looked up one day and there stood Sonny with his trademark grin.

Later that year, after Pearl Harbor, he went to Kodiak, Alaska, on a defense job. He returned and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and got his wings as a pilot.

After World War II, I saw him a couple of times. It seemed like every time I saw him he had another kid. Four sons. Then I heard from his wife in the late 1960s.

He had been flying a jet fighter for the Texas Air National Guard. He experienced a flameout. It was 6 p.m. on a weekday. He was over a residential area on the outskirts of San Antonio. Beneath him were houses and yards filled with children. Without power, jet fighters glide like a rock. He headed for open country.

When he passed over the last fence of the residential area, when he was certain civilians beneath him were out of harmís way, he ejected. His altitude was approximately 350 feet. His parachute opened about the time his body hit the ground. He was killed instantly.

Subsequent investigation, along with recorded radio messages, proved he knew exactly what he was doing and acted decisively and deliberately.


Major June Lee (Sonny) Neely was buried with military honors, including an Air Force fly-by, in San Antonio.

I think it was Plato who said a man is best judged by the last hour of his life, or words to that effect. If this is true, then my restless and audacious friend has known the exhilaration as well as the sublime peace, in the custody of his Creator.


(The author is a member of the White County Historical Society.)