If you took pieces from some episodes of “Law & Order,” “Bluebloods,” “NCIS” and “CSI,” you would have some idea of Reggie Nealy’s life. His two daughters and son are all part of the extended family’s lifelong involvement in the law and law enforcement. At family gatherings, there’s lots of talk about their work.
Recently stepping down after a two-year term as Commandant of The Phillip C. Delong Detachment #1267 of the Marine Corps League, Reggie counts that as just another of the many chapters in his life of service and teaching.
Joining the Marine Corps out of high school in 1966, the Pottstown, Pa. native was sent to Vietnam, where he ended up working in a small unit that worked with the Vietnamese militia protecting villages at the foot of a mountain range near the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He received a Purple Heart and was rotated out.
“That’s when I went on the Caribbean Cruise,” he laughs. “The U.S. has forces in readiness around the world, including the Caribbean, so I was sent on a three-month cruise.”
While some of his comrades scored berths on a carrier and other large vessels, Reggie was assigned to a flat-bottomed LST, which rocked and rolled continually.
“We’d roll to one side and all you’d see was the blue sky. Then we’d roll to the other side and all you’d see was the ocean,” he recalls, leaning precariously to one side and then the other. He ended up his three years with the Corps as a police officer on dry land again at Guantanamo Bay.
Police work appealed to Reggie, so after the Marines he joined a local police department in Pennsylvania, remaining there for 16 years. During that time, he also went to college classes under a federal education program. “I started taking classes and never seemed to quit, even after the federal programs ended. I just enjoyed learning and continued to go.”
That led to a 26-year career teaching in the Criminal Justice Department of West Chester College near Philadelphia.
“I taught what I knew best, basic investigation, Forensics 1,” he said. “My classes were always filled. It was a joy. It was an easy 26 years for me because I loved what I was doing and enjoyed the young folks I was working with.”
Some of his students went on to leadership posts in law enforcement.
“One student went on to become chief of the FBI undercover agents worldwide. So, he came over to the college as my guest lecturer a few times.” His students ended up in the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, NCIS, CIA and other branches of international, federal and local law enforcement. Students also started hanging around Reggie’s office waiting for a glimpse of the famous alumni who came back to visit their teacher.
When his wife, Sharon, was posted to Charlotte, N.C. by her employer, Wells Fargo, Reggie left West Chester. A few years later they decided that they wanted a second home and ended up buying in the Village of Piedmont in 2013.
“It’s an eight-hour trip back to Charlotte,” he says. “During that trip, I pretty much convinced her that we needed to sell that house in Charlotte and move down here. And I often say that was probably the best move I ever made in my life.”
Wells Fargo valued Sharon’s contribution to the firm so highly that they agreed to allow her to work remotely from home.
Reggie was introduced to the Marine Corps League by a neighbor.
“I was at the post boxes one day talking with my neighbor, Jimmy Kelly. He must have noticed the Marine Corps emblem on my car and asked if I had ever considered joining. So, I went down.”
Reggie was very impressed by the Detachment’s primary mission – support of Lake Hills School for severely handicapped and disabled children in Howey-in-the Hills. Just before he became Commandant in 2016, a significant event took place. “There was a new computerized program that allowed noncommunicative children to communicate.”
Using a computer monitor and a voice synthesizer, students with very limited movement could point out letters, words or symbols to make their needs known. The words would scroll slowly down the screen and when the right one came along, the student could bite down on a mouthpiece to stop the scrolling. “Suddenly, for the first time in his life, this child could tell someone that he was hungry or needed to go to the bathroom. And they could take it home with them and communicate with their families. It was earth-shattering for them, as well as for me.”
Some of Reggie’s Detachment colleagues soon personally sponsored communication equipment units for the students. “And I said, this does it for me. This is the kind of organization I want to be involved in.”
In addition to the Lake Hills School, the League also does the Toys for Tots at Christmas, soup kitchens and other programs. “You can’t do everything, but I sleep well at night knowing that we’re making a difference – doing something positive.”
Now Reggie is on the League’s Board of Trustees and past president, assisting new Commandant Nathan Pratt to take up his duties. He is also senior vice commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and expects to take over leadership of his branch in March next year.
Now that he has a breather, Reggie wants to get back to two of his loves – fishing and golf. With Sharon, he will often take off on a day trip. “One of the things that attracted me to The Villages is that you can jump on a bus and go somewhere for the day.”
John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. Learn more at www.GoMyStory.com.