AL UDEID AIR BASE, QATAR -- More than 58,000 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War and according to one veteran who sustained multiple injuries during the conflict; the number of casualties should have been raised by one.
Clebe McClary, a former Marine first lieutenant who was wounded during the Vietnam War, shared his story on surviving more than 40 surgeries and overcoming the mental and emotional stress of losing an eye and left arm with airmen, sailors, Marines, soldiers and civilians at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Jan. 14, 2014.
Today, McClary travels around the world and shares his story with men and women of all ages.
Standing over six feet tall, McClary wears an eye patch over his left eye. When he enters the room he ensures his presence is known by acknowledging and greeting every person he sees. His voice is loud, he has a southern drawl and his character is influence from growing up on a 10,000 acre farm in the South Carolina Lowcountry. As a former reconnaissance Marine, McClary is as tough as he looks but is a humble man.
"I should have bled to death," McClary said in regards to his injuries sustained March of 1968 during an enemy attack in Vietnam. "After the first explosion went off, I went to pick up my shotgun and my left arm was missing."
McClary was struck by two more grenades, and two of the men he was serving with were killed in action. PFC Ralph Johnson, who received the Medal of Honor for jumping on a grenade and saving the lives of his fellow Marines, was next to McClary during the attack. McClary credits Johnson with saving his life.
During his speech, McClary discussed the importance of having a balance between the spiritual, mental, social and physical pillars to help with overcoming difficult obstacles in life and remaining resilient.
"I thank God for being alive," he said. "There was a time, when I was in the hospital, I thought I wanted to die. My whole face was ripped off and I was missing my teeth, my lips, my eye, my arm and the doctors thought I would never walk again. People were outside the hospital, protesting the war, burning flags and throwing rocks through the window.
"One day Billy Casper, a professional golfer, came to see me. I didn't know much about golf, and I didn't know who he was. He said to me, 'I love you, I'm praying for you and thank you for what you have done.' Billy gave me hope and reminded me that God put me on this earth for a reason. That golfer saved my life."
McClary also credits his recovery to his wife of 46 years, Deanna, who stuck with him through his life's journey. He reminded service members to love their spouses and to build stronger relationships with them.
"My wife is the most caring and beautiful person in the world," McClary said. "I don't know many people who would, clean, bathe, dress and keep alive someone in my condition. She could have taken the easy way out and could have chosen to be with any other man, but she said she loves me and that is true love. I'd be dead if it wasn't for her.
"Relationships are an important part of life. We need to strengthen our relationships every day and keep working on them. Nobody is perfect and storms are going to come in any relationship but, eventually they will clear."
Growing up on a farm, eating healthy and playing sports impacted his recovery and kept him alive, McClary said. He also credits being part of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion for giving him the mental strength to never quit and make a full recovery.
McClary thanked the men and women who are currently serving in the military for the sacrifices they make every day.
"Today's service members are stronger, smarter and better looking than we could have ever dreamed of," McClary said. "But all of you are overworked and underpaid. With all the cuts happening in the military, the troops need more support now than ever. I thank you for what you do for our nation and I appreciate the sacrifice you make being away from your loved ones. I am honored to be amongst these great men and women who proudly wear the uniform."