Yesterday was filled with unexpected surprises..like waves coming in on a continuous basis. The picture of this “Live Oak” (in the same tree lineage as the famous Angel Oak on John’s Island) lies in Ben’s friend, Rick Mariner’s, front yard.
It is so magnificently serene and casts the most cooling shadows from its long, low branches….it reminded me of someone mentioned earlier in the morning in a special 50th Remembrance of the Viet Nam War….(I will return to the ‘someone’ shortly.)
Rick had to literally rebuild his house from the great flood that hit Horry County almost a year ago (last September)…and now it is beautiful with a new floating deck out front.
Rick is also a talented guitar maker…Ben “babysat” all his guitars while he was rebuilding his home on the river. He barely got the guitars out in time before the flood ruined them.
Rick’s website is: www.HaywireCustomsGuitars.com
The reason for my impromptu visit to Conway to see Ben was two-fold…besides being my brother, of course, 🙂 Ben told me that First Lieutenant “Clebe” mcClary III, USMC – war hero and public speaker was coming to the 2019 Veterans Event yesterday and re-telling his story.
I had heard Clebe my senior year at Erskine and his story was so powerful I never forgot it….I wanted to hear him again and I was not disappointed…if anything he was better than before.
U.S. Congressman, Tom Rice (7th District of South Carolina) sponsored this major remembrance for Vietnam Veterans from the 7th District.
As soon as I walked in… there stood Clebe…I immediately walked over and introduced myself and told him about hearing his amazing story of survival at Erskine College in 1971 and how I had never forgotten it.
We soon were swapping funny stories about certain professors and he laughed and said that the music appreciation professor told him he was not to step over the threshold in his classroom…ever…when Clebe asked if he could bring country music in for everyone to enjoy…Yet somehow Clebe graduated without it…and said the closest he came to teaching music was having his high school students sing funny songs while running laps during P.E.
A summary of what occurred to him during the Vietnam War does not do it justice…one has to hear Clebe tell his own story…but in essence he was a platoon leader in the First Reconnaissance Battalion…on their 19th patrol…the unit was attacked by a Viet Cong suicide squad with grenades strapped to their bodies.
Clebe was seriously wounded, losing his left arm and left eye, yet he continued to fight and lead his men. Over forty six surgeries later Clebe is as filled with faith and hope now as he was before the attack. It could have taken a bitter toll but he faced his rehab with characteristic determination. Today McClary is a symbol of courage and hope to the many audiences around the world with whom he has shared his story.
But there was still one more story to share…the man who sacrificed his life to save Clebe and two other soldiers (They would be the only survivors from the platoon)…Nineteen -year-old Pfc. Ralph Johnson from Charleston, SC…graduate of Burke High School.
As more and more grenades fell into the craters one landed right in the middle of the hole containing the last of the survivors. Johnson, without thought or hesitation, threw himself on the grenade smothering it with his stomach… while calling out to his fellow soldiers to get away. Johnson’s family posthumously received his Congressional Medal of Honor.
Congressman Rice and First Lieutenant Clebe McClary became close friends as they fought for home turf when a destroyer was to be named in Johnson’s honor in San Diego.
Clebe said he was a hometown boy from Charleston and that is where the commissioning ceremony should take place… together they made it happen. Six thousand people attended the ceremony!
Another surprise awaited the veterans sitting in the auditorium…Each Vietnam Veteran was asked to come down…shake McClary’s (two fingers left on his “good” hand) and then receive thank you lapel pins, among other things from Congressman Tom Rice.
I am just so glad I was there to see and witness this special occasion in my brother’s life. “Honoring Those Who Served”
Ben, Rick, and I went to lunch together and then there was still one more person Ben wanted me to meet…Hitesh Kumar…Hitesh is from Pakistan originally but immigrated to the United States several years back! By far he is the most appreciative, upbeat, positive personality I have ever met. He loves America and is eternally thankful for the opportunity to live here.
He worked his way up from a serving job at Subway to saving his money to buy a franchise….today it is located in a gas station in Conway. Ben told me he would cry out “Oakey Dokey” when Hitest saw him…it was a running joke between them when neither could pronounce the other’s name. As luck would have it…Ben ended up being one of his first customers and a long, lasting friendship has evolved over almost a decade.
You just have to smile when you are around Hitest and his family…because his laughter is infectious and for me…it is a reassurance that the American Dream is still alive for anyone who desires freedom over everything and never stops climbing until he achieves it for himself and his loved ones.
So until tomorrow… here is the ending of the title quote…which Clebe used in his book to express his own philosophy on the war, on life, on his miraculous survival, and in special tribute for Pvt. Ralph Johnson…
“In this world of give and take, there aren’t enough people willing to give what it takes.”
(I think obviously Clebe and Ralph Johnson being extreme exceptions! )
*The live “angel” oak title picture is a metaphor for Private Ralph Johnson…who today continues to live through others who survived because of the sacrifice of his most precious gift…his life!
Clebe McClary has honored Private Ralph Johnson by continuing to tell his story and be his voice for him….he carries a picture of Johnson on the top of his briefcase which he carries everywhere…so not a single day goes by that he doesn’t see and remember the man who saved his and two friends’ lives.
Photo of Ben’s renovated house that he and friends have been working on…and will continue starting back next month….great work boys…love the new deck on the back of the house!
Let’s get ready to ring that bell this morning…one more time…as Ann Graves goes back into surgery around ll:45…the surgeon didn’t get all the cancer cells-some showed up outside the margins… (the first time around)…but this time…let’s pray for it to be the charm….the final charm for surgery.
I hope I didn’t dream this…meeting myself coming and going… but I think Sis said she got the results of the hereditary catalyst for genetic breast cancer and it was negative… so that was very good news…now, like Ann, she is just praying her surgeon can get a clear margin this report around too! Her next surgery will be after Labor Day. Prayers and more prayers for both “gals”!!
Back to School for Charleston students…Eva Cate was very excited this morning…Jakie’s CD 4 Year Old Class doesn’t get started until next week so I am going over later today to keep him tomorrow. But he was excited to be going to Eva Cate’s school on Monday night to meet the teacher….
Mollie took this picture of Walsh with the family on Rutledge’s first day…keep the jokes coming and the tears at bay….