10 Things an American Hero Taught Me About Life, Love, and Leadership

Clebe McClary was 25-years old when he lost his left arm, left eye, and the use of his right hand. This happened on a hill in Vietnam in 1968. He was hit by a rocket, a grenade, and multiple bullets. He lived to tell his story, but after all those injuries, he didn’t want to live until two men introduced him to Jesus Christ.

One was Billy Casper, the most recent Masters Golf Tournament winner, who visited Clebe in the military hospital in Japan. The second was Bobby Richardson, the all-star second baseman for the NY Yankees. Bobby led Clebe and Mickey Mantle to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

I heard a lot about Clebe from John Warren.

John is my friend and a battle-tested Marine Captain who served in Iraq in 2006. He said, “I would like you to join me, my friend who is a decorated Vietnam war hero and Christian, and some active-duty Marines on a pheasant hunt in South Dakota.”

I don’t hunt, and I’ve never been to South Dakota. But I do have great respect for John and the Marine Corps. I accepted the invite because I wanted to meet Clebe and the younger Marines. Somehow I knew it would be life-changing, and it was.

Here is what I learned by observing this great leader Clebe McClary, USMC, 1st Recon Platoon, 1967-1968 Vietnam.

  1. Be with Jesus. He was up every day at 3 am. It was about the same time the younger Marines were going to bed. Clebe rose to read the Bible and find out what God had in store for him that day. He also took time to pray and be with Jesus.
  2. Take time to think. He also used this time to just be quiet. To think about his story, the story he was going to share with everyone the very next evening. When I woke up at 5:30 am, there he was with his pen, paper, computer, and photos spread all over the table. He was soaking in his ideas and his history.
  3. Always be last. On the way to the hunting lodge from the airport, all twelve of us were in a minibus. We decided to stop for a quick lunch. We found a Subway, unloaded, and got in line. Because I was sitting in the front seat of the bus, I was close to the front of the line. After getting my sandwich, I look up and noticed Clebe was the last person in line. I saw this every time there was a line to do anything. Ordering food, getting our guns, getting dressed, boarding the bus to hunt, you name it, Clebe always put himself last.
  4. Love everyone. Clebe was always looking to greet each person who walked into the room. He was the first to walk up to them and shake their hand. He was always interested in them. He was upbeat with his one good eye filled with the love of Christ. He made me feel welcome, even when I didn’t feel I deserved to be there.
  5. Have a message. He was a man who lived actively as a disciple of Jesus Christ. He believed! But he had a simple message for everyone he talked to. He would say, “You know God does not have grandchildren. He only has children.” This means each of us must make a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become a child of God. We can’t get to a relationship with Jesus simply because our parents raised us in the church. This truth really hit me.
  6. Ask for help. I am reticent to ask for help. But if asked, I’ll jump right in to help someone else. I am not alone. Most of us don’t ask for help. We want to be independent. Not Clebe. The first time I saw him ask for help was to put on his “hook,” as he called it, while getting prepared for the first hunt. “Strap this thing on for me,” he asked. I saw humility in this man simply because he asked for help unashamedly.
  7. Speak highly of your wife. Clebe married Miss South Carolina before heading to Vietnam. After these horrific war wounds, his wife was told by friends she should move on. They have been married for 53 years. She stuck with him and helped him become the man he is today, and he loves and honors her for it. We were about to get our pictures taken with all the guys and the pheasants from the hunt, and Clebe noticed his shirt was out of his pants. He said, “My wife is always picking on me about how sloppy I look in pictures. He turned to a young Marine, a Silver Star Sergeant Major, and said, “Tuck my shirt in for me, will you?” I loved seeing this, and the reaction from the young Marine. It looked like he was thinking, How do I tuck another man’s shirt in?
  8. Give people the gifts you value. Clebe sat everyone down for a Bible study. I could see most of the Marines were doing this out of respect for Clebe. Bible study was not their thing, but they complied. Then Clebe spoke of his love for the Bible. The impact the Word of God had on his life since submitting to Jesus as his Savior and Lord. He said, “Reading the Bible is kind of overwhelming. It is a very big book. So I’m giving you this gift.” He gave each of us a copy of Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful. I noticed the introduction was written by Clebe himself. The book was a daily devotional containing five Psalms and one Proverb per day. In the introduction, he wrote, “My dad always said, ‘Son, the biggest room in all the world is the room for improvement.’ I heeded his advice. God’s word is the only way to improve yourself with lasting significance.” He impacted me with that simple yet personal gift.
  9. Share your story. The third night we were at the lodge, Clebe shared his story with everyone in the lodge. Not just our group but everyone. He had us all in his grip. We were spellbound with his experience, his pain, his hopelessness, his answer of Jesus, and his hope, love, and vitality of the last fifty years. All of us got something from his story. All of us related on a personal level. We walked away richer having met Clebe and having heard his story and what he’s learned in life.
  10. Never stop serving. Never. This is Clebe. He is seventy-seven years old, and he gave over two hundred presentations in 2019. He shared his story, his love for others, and his love for Christ over two hundred times just this year. But in addition to speaking, he serves. He hosts over two hundred Marines and their families at the beach every Memorial Day. He wants to love them and share Christ with them. It’s a free vacation for these Marines and their families—a time to receive the love of God as a family unit.

Before I went on this hunting trip, I decided I was going to watch this Clebe guy. Everyone spoke so highly of him. I wanted to observe and learn. I wanted to experience his love and energy.

What I discovered is a man who is in physical pain, who needs help more and more as he ages, and who isn’t afraid to be honest with what’s on his mind and what is hurting at the time. Because of this, I got to know Clebe. He is real. He is not the perfect inspirational war hero with all the right answers for a perfect life. He is a man who loves Jesus and loves the person in front of him.

It was a great experience. I missed almost every pheasant which crossed my path. But I didn’t miss learning from Clebe on how to be a man and a child of God.