Gunnery Sergeant Henry Levell McNair


Service Number: 198070

Birth and Early Life:
Henry McNair was the son of Thomas and Mary McNair of Carthage, Mississippi. He was born on July 11, 1902, and would be the oldest of their nine children. The McNairs moved to Shelby, Tennessee shortly before 1920; Thomas and his older sons worked the family farm for several years before Henry enlisted on December 2, 1924.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
McNair attended boot camp at San Diego, and was chosen for Sea School in March, 1925. His Marine career started somewhat ingloriously as a runner for the Fourth Regiment Provisional Company, but on April 28, 1925, Private McNair was made a member of the Marine Detachment, USS Pennsylvania.

Service Prior to 1941:
Henry McNair was promoted to Private First Class in May, 1925, and sailed with the Pennsylvania on fleet maneuvers around Hawaii and saw Australia and New Zealand. He spent the year 1926 in San Pedro, California, attached to the Pennsylvania, then transferred to the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, and set out for China duty. Shortly after completing his first four years in the Corps, McNair was promoted to corporal.

McNair served in China until October, 1928. He returned to the United States briefly before being sent on to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to join the HQ Company of the First Marine Brigade. He served out his enlistment in Haiti, and was discharged with a Good Conduct Medal on December 1, 1930. Re-enlisting almost immediately earned McNair a two-month furlough and nine months of stateside duty before returning to China.

Corporal McNair joined the 38th Company at the American Legation in Peiping and remained there until the end of his second enlistment in December 1934; he received a bar for his Good Conduct Medal, re-enlisted at Norfolk Navy Yard, and remained with the barracks detachment there until receiving his second sea post aboard the USS Arkansas. Though still strictly on a peacetime footing, the Navy and Marines carried out plenty of exercises, and much of (now-Sergeant) McNair’s time aboard the battleship was spent participating in rehearsals and training voyages for young Annapolis midshipmen. One of his primary duties was as a gun captain for one of the Arkansas’ secondary anti-ship batteries.

After spending most of 1938 on duty at Norfolk, McNair was brought to Parris Island, South Carolina, where he put his three stripes and fourteen years of experience to work as a drill instructor. He stayed there until mid-1941 when, as a gunnery sergeant, he joined the Marine detachment of the USS Quincy.

Wartime Service:
Gunny McNair was the second-highest rated enlisted man aboard the cruiser; in addition to keeping younger Marines in line, he was also responsible for a 5-inch gun battery. His battery first fired in anger on August 8, 1942 during a Japanese air raid off Guadalcanal. The gunners acquitted themselves well, and most probably looked forward to their next encounter with the enemy.

Date Of Loss:
That encounter would come sooner than any aboard the Quincy could have believed. They were roused by General Quarters shortly before 0200; those who were slow in waking were urged on by the sound of Japanese shells tearing the cruiser apart. Within 20 minutes, Quincy was out of control, unable to return fire, and sinking. Gunnery Sergeant McNair was one of the Marines who lost his life in the battle of Savo Island; no trace of his remains was ever found.

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Henry McNair (1)

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) Mrs. McNair’s name and the date of their marriage is unknown. At the time of his death, she was living in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania; this location is officially listed as McNair’s hometown.

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