‘I’ve lived a good life’: Hundreds of former students honor Va. Marine battling cancer

‘I’ve lived a good life’: Hundreds of former students honor Va. Marine battling cancer

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - In a small room at the Hermitage High School JROTC building in Henrico, hundreds of former students from over the past 15 years made their way to see a man who shaped many of their adult lives.

“If I’m going to do a job, I’m going to do the best job I can,” said Marine Sergeant Major Cecil McNair.

Saturday morning the spotlight was on McNair. As he sat in his wheelchair, he shook hundreds of hands and received hug-after-hug from his former pupils.

“You don’t count the time, you don’t count the days, you just give, give, give,” said McNair.

EXTENDED VERSION: ‘I’ve lived a good life’: Hundreds of former students honor Va. Marine battling cancer

McNair served in the Marines for 25 years before switching careers to become a teacher at Hermitage High School’s JROTC program in 1996. He was a teacher at the high school for 15 years before retiring in 2011.

McNair volunteered his time and heart in dedicated service to the VA hospital, where he would transport veterans to and from their doctor appointments.

“You’ve got hundreds, maybe even thousands of people, coming through this circle here that you don’t remember,” McNair.

What makes meeting his former students so special is that they are supporting him in the fight of his life. In December, McNair was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As McNair continues his treatment, his former students wanted to give him one final sendoff to honor the Marine who inspired many of them to pursue the Marine Corps, as well.

McNair’s body has weakened in the months since his diagnosis but with honor, courage, commitment and the support of his students, he faces this current the same way he would any other - with resolve. It’s that attitude that inspired generations to follow in his footsteps.

“He steered me in the right direction and because of him I have a successful Marine Corps career,” said Sgt. David Carter. “He served our country, he served individuals and now I have to be here to show my love and gratitude.”

To these former students, McNair was more than an instructor.

“It was almost like a father-son type of relationship,” said Captain Walter Spain.

Spain severed as a Capt. in the Marine Corps overseas in Germany and Africa for nearly a decade. He was part of the first class that McNair taught when he started instructing in the JROTC program in 1996.

When McNair saw Capt. Spain, his face lit up before bursting into tears.

“He was just such a magnetic and human person. SGM’s in the Marine Corps are very rigorous, tough and strict, but SGM. McNair was all of that, but also somebody you could connect with on a human level,” said Spain.

Countless other Hermitage Alumni shared similar stories with McNair about how he went above and beyond as a mentor, father-figure and friend. McNair says inspiring people is the reason he says motivated every day.

“I could walk around and say, ‘woe is me’ or I could walk in here with my head up and maybe I can inspire you,” said McNair. “It’s called bearing. The way you carry yourself, the way you present yourself.”

Though McNair’s fight is not over yet, he says he’s satisfied with the legacy he’s left behind for his students.

“I’ve lived a good life...fought a good fight...And now it’s time for someone else,” McNair.

“That’s a Marine for you... once a Marine always a Marine,” said Spain.

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