HeroVet: Clebe McClary, Overcoming the Odds to Inspire Others

Clebe McClary

Patrick Cleburne, "Clebe" McClary, III was raised on a plantation in South Carolina. He grew up hunting, fishing, and excelling in sports. Clebe had it all. He won scholarships, set state records for athletic achievements, taught Sunday School in his home of Florence, South Carolina. He married the prettiest cheerleader in his high school.

Then, at the height of the fighting in Vietnam, he joined the Marine Corps. After officer's training school, Lt.Clebe McClary was sent to war. And just after midnight on March 3rd, 1968, his life was shattered.

On Hill 146, deep in "Indian country", Clebe and his men were caught in a firefight. In the initial enemy attack, a satchel charge severed his left arm.Despite his wound, he continued to fight. Seeing a grenade hurtling toward him, he threw up his right hand to protect his face. When the grenade exploded, his left eye was torn from its socket, both eardrums burst and his right hand was mutilated.

Though disoriented and while exposed to enemy fire, McClary inspired his Marines by running between fighting positions to redirect their fire. He was struck by another grenade explosion that mutilated his legs. Bleeding profusely, he retrieved the radio to call artillery and air strikes.

As he was losing consciousness, McClary recalls thinking, "I never wanted to live so much in all my life." Knowing he was near death, his thoughts were of his men and his wife. "If I could just live long enough to see my Marines get off this mountain alive," he says, "If I could just see my wife one more time."

His Marines held on forcing the enemy troops to pull back. Before the enemy could mount another assault, a chopper arrived to carry Clebe and his men to safety. For his actions, McClary was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.

A New Life

McClary said over sixty-five percent of the wives of traumatically injured veterans left their husbands. But McClary's wife, Deanna, stood by him. Upon seeing him for the first time after his return from Vietnam, Deanna said, "To me, he was beautiful, because he was Clebe, and he was home, and he was mine." Sneaking in before visiting hours and hiding to stay late to be with him virtually around the clock, she cared for him, assisted in changing his dressings, and played a major role in his therapy.

Clebe spent the next two and one-half years in hospitals and rehabilitation. He underwent thirty-four operations and countless hours of therapy to rebuild his shattered body.

He persevered. And he more than recovered. 

Clebe McClary has since dedicated himself to sharing his story and his faith - "serving in the Lord's Army", as he says - to inspire others. He presents his philosophy on leadership, commitment, and discipline in a motivational program he calls PATCH: Positive Attitude That Characterizes Hope. He has spoken to corporate giants, professional athletes, students, soldiers and church groups. He has written a book, Living Proof, and he is the subject of a documentary film, Portrait of An American Hero.

"Once you've listened to Clebe speak', says Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, "your life will never be the same." Echoes Tommy LaSorda, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, "He is and inspiration to every American in every walk of life."

Image Credit: http://www.afcent.af.mil/Units/379th-Air-Expeditionary-Wing/News/Display/Article/501663/vietnam-war-hero-shares-his-story/

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