Shot twice in a week, Marine dubbed ‘Lucky’
ASADABAD, Afghanistan — To the U.S. Marine Corps, he’s known as Lance Cpl. John McClellan of Company E’s combined anti-armor team, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
To Marine grunts in eastern Afghanistan, McClellan is known as “Bullet Sponge” or “Lucky.”
That’s because McClellan was shot twice in the same arm in the span of a week.
Earlier this month, the 19-year-old from Columbia, Mo., was shot in the right arm during two separate firefights in Kunar province. He’s possibly the first Marine from the 2nd Battalion to have earned two Purple Hearts during its deployment to Afghanistan.
Despite the wounds to his right wrist and shoulder, McClellan is walking around and has full use of his limb. Other than tending to his wounds and dealing with daily ribbing from the grunts, McClellan’s doing fine.
“Be sure to ask him how many tears he cried when he got hit,” shouted a laughing Marine when McClellan sat down for an interview Sunday. “How many tears did you shed, McClellan?”
Taking it all in stride, McClellan dismissed his buddies with a good-natured chuckle.
Only now, with McClellan in good heath, can his unfortunate series of close calls be poked fun at.
On or about Oct. 11, traveling from Forward Operating Base Asadabad to Camp Blessing, McClellan’s convoy took enemy fire. He didn’t feel it when he got hit with a ricochet from a 7.62 mm round. His reaction was to rock back the MK19 grenade launcher from his turret on a Humvee and return fire. When he did notice his wound, McClellan looked around his body for holes and saw blood coming from his wrist.
The firefight lasted about five minutes, during which another Marine was critically wounded. Only when the convoy resumed its journey to Camp Blessing did McClellan begin to ponder his injury.
“I was just like, ‘Wow. I got hit. I’m OK though,’ ” he recalled. “I was wondering how my fellow Marine was doing the rest of the way there. It never really hurt — this one. I got lucky.”
A day later, McClellan learned a bullet fragment was lodged in his wrist. He underwent surgery to have the piece removed and receive stitches.
On Oct. 17, McClellan was on another convoy from Asadabad to Blessing. It was his second time outside the wire after being shot in the wrist, and Marines were already starting to give him grief.
“Before we left, we were joking around saying that we’re going to get shot at because he was with us,” said Lance Cpl. Chris Acey, 25, of Conifer, Colo.
Marines were inspecting a suspected roadside bomb when a barrage of enemy rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine-gun fire descended on them from a nearby ridgeline.
McClellan, again in a Humvee turret, returned fire with an M240 machine gun.
“The only reason I knew I got hit was because I felt pressure on my arm and heard a tink on the back of the (turret) shield. I yelled, ‘I got hit. I think I’m hit.’ I look at the back of my arm, and blood’s running down.”
He ducked down into the Humvee and another Marine took McClellan’s position in the turret. McClellan assessed his wound, rationalized he had to get back in the fight and got out of the vehicle.
“I grabbed my [M]16 and started shooting,” he said. “I figured [the enemy is] not going to stop firing just because I’m shot, so I started firing again to gain some fire superiority.”
The Navy corpsman on the scene cut open McClellan’s uniform to treat his wound.
“He asked me, ‘Is it bad?,’ ” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Maldonado, 25, a corpsman from Los Angeles. “I told him, ‘It’s not good, but it’s not bad either.’ ”
After the roughly 25-minute firefight, the Marines made their way to Blessing, where McClellan received an IV, had his wound cleaned and later X-rayed to make sure the bullet had exited and not caused additional damage.
“When a round penetrates the body, it normally bounces around and can do a lot more damage,” Maldonado said. “I thought it bounced around. I thought it was still inside him. When we got back to Blessing, we found out it went in and out. He was extremely lucky.”
After having been shot twice, McClellan has heard rumors that he may not be headed outside the wire again. But he wants to be with his fellow grunts.
“I don’t like sitting on the bench,” he said. “If my team’s going to be out there, I want to be out there with them.”
But if he does head out again, he wants to avoid earning his other nickname that’s floating around FOB Asadabad.
“Yeah, it’s ‘Third Time’s a Charm,’ ” he said with a laugh. “They say I’m going to get shot again, but hopefully I won’t.”