ELIZABETH CITY, NC — A hush has fallen over the crowd gathered at the The Pines at Elizabeth City for the annual North Carolina Potato Association meeting. The evening’s guest of honor is approaching the podium. He stands as tall and proud as the retired U.S. Marine he is. His uniform is inspection-ready, in spite of (or perhaps enhanced by) the black eye patch and the empty left sleeve of his dress jacket. His other hand is drawn into a claw. When he speaks, no one in the room moves.
For the next half-hour they’ll sit entranced as they hear the story of First Lieutenant Patrick Cleburne McClary, III, USMC, Retired, known to thousands as just “Clebe”.
McClary is a true American hero. For years now, he and wife Dea have hosted an annual retreat for warriors still in the field, a safe haven for them and their families at a private beach in Clebe’s home state of South Carolina. It’s a much needed respite.
McClary knows that firsthand. During the Vietnam War, the Lowcountry native was serving as a platoon leader in the First Reconnaissance Battalion. On the battalion’s 19th patrol, the unit was attacked by the Viet Cong. Lieutenant McClary was seriously wounded, losing his left arm and left eye, yet he continued to lead his men. His life was spared when a young soldier dived on the grenade that cost Clebe his eye and arm. McClary was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Heart medals for his valor in action.
The numerous surgeries and long recovery period that followed could have taken a bitter toll, but he faced his rehabilitation with characteristic determination. In the years since, Lieutenant McClary has become a symbol of courage and hope to the many audiences around the world with whom he has shared his story.
SPW’s Chip Carter and Jenni Kight traveled to North Carolina to catch up with McClary — we’re proud to present this memorable Veterans Day salute. It’s more than just another long holiday weekend — it’s a time to reflect and remember. Thank a veteran for your chance to observe it.