LITCHFIELD BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - He grew up on a 10,000-acre plantation outside of Georgetown. But he earned his Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts thousands of miles away in the jungles of Vietnam.
Like many veterans, he had a hard time coming home. But it’s what he decided to do with his life’s experiences that has made him WMBF’s “Embrace a Veteran.”
Lt. Clebe McClary is a Marine Corps veteran. He served in Vietnam in the late 1960s. He told WMBF News on his battalion’s 19th patrol, they were attacked. Many were mortally wounded or injured, including McClary.
“That’s me, that’s me in training when I had arms at Quantico,” McClary said, pointing at a picture in his scrapbook from training before his deployment overseas.
In the next picture, his facial expression changed.
“That’s the kid that saved my life, that went on the grenade," he said of Private First Class Ralph Johnson.
McClary said the young man jumped on the grenade to save him and two others. A Charleston Veterans Affairs hospital and Navy ship are among the things named after Johnson today. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
Some 50 years later, McClary’s memories of their “night on the hill” are still vivid.
“The operation got canceled and we got left out there because of bad weather, and they blew up the airstrip and the ammo was dumped from the choppers, and they couldn’t get us. So we got left out there, and it was all night," McClary explained.
He said they faced heavy enemy fire. McClary was eventually hit by a grenade, losing an arm and an eye. He was also shot. Several of his men died that night.
“The night on the hill I wanted to live. I wanted to see my men get off alive, and I wanted to see my wife again.”
Air troops came in at the right time and saved them, McClary said. But once they got to the hospitals, they saw the damage done.
“But when I saw my face was blown off, nose was off, my eardrums blown out, we had no house, no furniture," McClary said of his state.
His legs were badly injured. He said at that point, he didn’t want to live. Then, pro golfer, Billy Casper, visited him in a Japanese hospital and told him to keep his faith. He did.
McClary went home to his wife, and they had two daughters. McClary reunited with Casper 48 years later on the green.
“I met him at The Masters and that’s when I started golf. And I’m having a ball," he said with a smile.
But it was listening to another athlete, Bobby Richardson, who inspired McClary to start sharing his story.
“Some Sunday school class would ask me (to speak), or a Boy Scout group or United Way, or the Red Cross, and I just started telling my story. And we’ve been in 50 states, 25 times in about 40 countries, and we drove a bus two and a half million miles and lived in it for 17 years,” McClary said of his career as a motivational speaker.
McClary motivationally speaks at just about anywhere. He was just at the Citadel and North Carolina National Guard in the last week to share his message. He spoke at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in August.
“In this world of give-and-take, there’s not enough people that can give what it takes, and I think to enjoy life and have a life worthwhile, you got to be willing to give what it takes. Freedom is not free and anything worth doing is worth doing well, and worth working for.”
McClary and his wife, Deanna, also work with active-duty military. They run Patriots at the Beach to get military families vacations together to help them stay together. They also help run Love in a Box. It ships clothes, food and homemade cookies specifically to troops all over the world.
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To read more about Clebe McClary and his speaking engagements, be redirected to his website here.