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Thanksgiving for Pirates and Living Proof

Thanksgiving for Pirates and Living Proof
'Do it right. Don't Screw up. Finish strong.' Clebe McClary

By Ladson F. Mills III
Special to Virtueonline
Nov. 18, 2017

'Who's the pirate,' whispered my young guest as the anticipated aromas emerged from the kitchen that had hosted my family's Thanksgiving meal since 1989. I quickly spotted the object of his curiosity seated across the room. With a patch over one eye and a hook for a left arm, it had not been an unfair observation. The only thing that seemed missing from completing the picture was a parrot on his shoulder and the obligatory 'har, har, har.'

'I'll be right back' I responded as I went over to pay my respects. Returning to my table my young friend could barely contain his curiosity as he blurted out, 'do you know him? 'what did you say?'

Semper Fi, (Always Faithful) the traditional greeting of Marines I answered, and no I didn't know him personally. But I do know him well enough to know he is one of the reasons you and I are able to enjoy this Thanksgiving meal. That pirate is Clebe McClary, and since you don't know who he is, it is important that you know. You can start by reading his book, Living Proof. Then you need to go hear him speak.

Patrick Cleburne "Clebe" McClary was living a comfortable life in 1967. As a successful athlete, he had gone into coaching with the hope that he might someday enter the college ranks. As a teacher, he had held a draft deferment that exempted him from military service, but that all changed one day when he encountered a group of Vietnam war protestors. Their behavior so bothered him that he decided to put his money where his mouth is and to enlist in the Marines. He was selected to attend Officer Candidate School and after receiving his commission was assigned to an elite Marine Corps Reconnaissance Unit.

In March 1968 he was in Vietnam where the unit he commanded was surrounded on a hill and about to be overrun. He radioed for the helicopters to extract his team from certain annihilation only to be told they would be unable to come until daylight. His response was sobering in its simplicity. 'Don't bother. None of us will be left by then. We are already throwing rocks instead of grenades.'

The rescue helicopters did come, but "Clebe" McClary would carry the outer scars of his severe wounds for the remainder of his life. Gone were his left arm and left eye. The fingers that remain on his right hand are fused. But that was only a small part of his recovery. He would endure two and a half years in a hospital and thirty-four operations.

But Clebe is "living proof" of the power of the Christian Gospel. Among his unanticipated blessings occurred when he received a surprise visit from professional golfer Billy Casper after being medically evacuated from Vietnam. Clebe admits that prior to Casper's visit he had been contemplating suicide. That was until Casper had whispered to him that God had a use for him.

His wife's Deanna's outward beauty was reinforced as a reflection of her inward beauty. Many spouses could not handle the devastation and walked away. Deanna McClary would stand with Clebe all the way. She too is a living proof of the Christian Gospel.

As I looked across the table back toward the pirate, I remembered the first time that our paths crossed. I was a twenty-one-year-old college senior getting ready to graduate and enter the Marine Corps. It was in February 1973 a mere five years since Clebe McClary had been wounded, and even less since his many painful surgeries. On that occasion, many of my college friends still called him "coach", having played high school athletics under him. I could only marvel at his faith and the strong witness of the Christian Gospel in his life which had so recently and dramatically been altered.

A lot has changed since 1973. Whereas Vietnam veterans were once spat upon and derided as baby killers, Vietnam service has become a stylish litmus test for politicians. It has become so popular that in his effort to be supportive one U.S. Senator from Connecticut forgot that he had never served in Vietnam.

We have raised a generation of young people who are unable to distinguish between perfection and progress. We live in a nation that no longer values right above self-interest. We no longer understand that it is in the service of others that we best serve God.

But it is more than just the military service that I would come to admire about Clebe McClary. He is a man who has many reasons to be bitter and angry but has chosen to be neither. He is a man for whom even the most routine things we take for granted are a chore. He is a man who is not defined by his scars and limitations but by his life and faith. In short, he is the personification of the title of his biography. Clebe McClary is Living Proof.

He might have chosen to end his life back in 1968 or to wrap himself in bitterness. Many did. Instead, he shares his story as a professional motivational speaker, and he and Deanna often host wounded and recovering veterans at their home in Pawleys Island, South Carolina.

So as Thanksgiving Day 2017 approaches I cannot help but remember the unexpected blessing that I received several years ago when I shared a moment at Thanksgiving with a pirate.

So, here's to you, Clebe, coach, Marine, patriot, pirate and yes, a true and faithful witness of Jesus Christ. Thank you for reminding me of how much thanks we owe to you and all the pirates who provide us with living proof.

As I reflect it was a wonderful lesson for a "young" man to be exposed.

And as for my guest. I think he may have learned a few lessons, as well.

Ladson F. Mills III is a retired priest with over thirty years pastoral experience. He is retired and lives with his wife on Johns Island. He is the founder of Setebos-Sixpence Freeland Writing, Ltd. He is a regular contributor to Virtueonline.

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