‘God could use you today; don’t give up!’
Long before the war on terror in Afghanistan, before Desert Storm or the invasion of Iraq, our country was torn apart by the Vietnam conflict. For those lived it, the horror was tremendous; the death toll overwhelming. Returning vets were seen by the general public not as heroes, but as pawns in a political chess game. Many were spit on and harassed in American airports as they tried to return home to resume a normal life.
Those who were wounded, disabled or disfigured had a tougher time trying to recover and many never made it back mentally or emotionally, despite the love of their families. One of those returning vets, Patrick Cleburne “Clebe” McClary came tragically close to having his name inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. In March of 1968, he lost his left arm and left eye after an intense hand-to-hand battle with the Viet Cong while on jungle patrol.
Marine First Lt. McClary was airlifted to Japan where doctors performed numerous surgeries on his face and upper body. But they couldn’t repair his spirit or his soul. The doctors told a visitor to his bedside, “Don’t bother, he is ready to die.”
Two-time U.S. Open champion Billy Casper didn’t listen to the doctor and approached McClary. Sensing his hopelessness, Casper put his arm around him and leaned in to whisper, “God could use you today, don’t give up!”
McClary listened closer as Casper thanked him for want he had done for his country. Then, before they parted, he added, “God Bless you!” Casper left the hospital, not knowing what would become of McClary, but that moment of caring by a stranger - a championship golfer - gave “Clebe” the will to survive.
God worked a miracle that day! Lt. McClary somehow found the courage to fight for his life and those kind words of hope and support by Casper saw him through to a recovery and the return to his home in South Carolina.
Fast-forward to 2013 and a neighborhood encounter with Jay Haas, a professional golfer who played in twenty-two Masters tournaments, and another emotional story begins to unfold.
Haas asked McClary to tell him his story of being wounded in Vietnam. “Clebe” slowly began his story, reliving the horror of a jungle patrol, and losing his left arm and left eye and how he had wanted to die in a hospital in Japan, if not for golfer. Haas asked, “Who was the golfer?” McClary replied, “Billy Casper, do you know him?”
At that moment, Haas knew he would have to get the two men together at the 2014 Masters Championship. On Tuesday of Masters week, the two finally met face to face again, after forty-six years.
The hug, near the Augusta National Clubhouse, lasted for about five minutes and both men, as well as family members and onlookers, cried tears of joy. The encounter in Japan had now come full circle. A new and lasting friendship would always bond the two men together.
McClary, now the noted author of “Living Proof,” and a motivational speaker to groups throughout the United States, was most proud of one single accomplishment. As he lay in his recovery ward wanting to die, he found the will to heed Casper’s advice, “Stay strong and find faith in God.”
McClary spent the afternoon walking around Augusta with Casper and he made it clear that Billy was welcome in his home anytime he was near Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. It had been a day of tears, joy and hugs that would last a lifetime.
19th hole trivia
“Clebe” McClary has a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.
As a motivational speaker, he has addressed groups in all 50 states and 30 foreign countries.
He has been awarded twelve additional titles, including the George Washington Medal of Freedom. He endured over thirty surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy.
McClary’s business card simply states: I’m a nobody that wants to tell everybody, about somebody, that can save anybody.”
Billy Casper has sixty-nine professional wins, including the Masters (1970), the U.S. Open (1959, 1966) and fifty-nine PGA tour wins.
Casper was inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame in 1978.