Vietnam hero McClary shoots from hip in visit to Okinawa
November 5, 2006
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — The pancakes and sausages served at the Camp Hansen United Service Organizations’ Flapjack Fridays came with a helping of American hero last week.
Motivational speaker and Marine veteran Clebe McClary, the subject of the documentary “Portrait of an American Hero,” stopped in to eat and chat about serving in the Corps during wartime and his life afterward.
He said his generation fought “’Nam with one hand tied behind [our] backs and y’all have a little bit of that now.” But, he said, “you have better leadership and at least we’re winning.”
McClary, awarded three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Silver Star, was a lieutenant with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division during the Vietnam War.
The 64-year-old McClary said his life changed March 3, 1968, during his 19th reconnaissance mission in enemy-controlled territory.
In the dark of night on Hill 146, a platoon-sized force of North Vietnamese soldiers attacked his patrol.
The initial attack took McClary’s left arm and subsequent grenade attacks tore out his left eye, burst both eardrums and shredded his legs.
Doctors said he would never walk again, but after more than 30 major surgeries and 2½ years in hospitals, he said, he got on with his life and since has run marathons. Marines asked if he would serve again knowing what would happen.
His reply: “I think this country is worth dying for. I’d rather the [enemy] die, but yeah, I’d do it again.”
Chuckles rang through the crowd when he said of the soldier who pulled Saddam Hussein from a spider hole in 2003, “I would have thrown a grenade in that hole.” To those injured in the war on terrorism, he says, “There is life afterwards.” He said of his injuries, “This is not what I wanted but you play the hand you’re dealt.”
Cpl. Paul Hoke, who recently returned from Iraq, said he felt a connection with McClary as a fellow war veteran and agreed with many of McClary’s remarks. “It was the best speech I’ve heard since I’ve been here,” Hoke said. “He tells it like it is.”
McClary, who has spoken at more than 7,500 events, is scheduled to be the guest of honor Monday at III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group’s Birthday Ball.