We use the word "hero" rather commonly these days. The word is thrown around almost as often as "great" and "unbelievable."
If you've ever met a certain native South Carolinian named Clebe McClary, those three words probably would be in the same sentence. And none of them would be inappropriate or misused.
Though his home is in Pawleys Island, his message has been delivered to all 50 states and 30 foreign countries. As one of the nation's popular motivational speakers, he continues to tell anyone who will listen about overcoming obstacles.
He'll also never shirk from sharing stories of his faith, family and flag.
Clebe McClary will address 92 football players next week at the Medal of Honor Bowl luncheon that honors Wounded Warriors.
These young men from all over the country will hear how McClary almost died for his country in Vietnam in 1968.
He'll talk about grenades and hand-to-hand combat in a battle that cost him his left arm and his left eye. Some of the men in his unit who died in that firefight were about the same age as the college seniors who will be in town for this bowl game.
McClary also will mention the young private from Burke High, Ralph Johnson, who threw himself on top of a grenade in that foxhole to save his young lieutenant's life and two other Marines.
All of these athletes will get an immediate understanding of what sacrifice and commitment really mean.
McClary spent 21/2 years in the hospital and endured 34 operations. Doctors initially told him he'd never walk again.
What these football players will see is a Marine in his dress blues wearing an eye patch, gesturing with a disfigured right hand and moving a stub of an arm under the left sleeve.
What they'll also see is a proud Palmetto State native confidently walk to the podium. Some of the visitors might struggle with the syrupy Southern accent. Others might also squirm during the descriptive telling of what happened in Vietnam after midnight in March 1968.
Just a few years ago, I was sitting across the table from McClary at a similar banquet. In one of the most humbling moments I've ever experienced, McClary casually asked me if I'd cut the meat on his plate. I felt proud to do it, in one sense, and ashamed I didn't see the need before he asked.
Warriors and all-stars
McClary has beaten the odds and will communicate to these all-stars his desire to live when the helicopters lifted his battered body from that hillside in Vietnam.
He also was once a football player. Just like many who will be at that luncheon next week, he, too, believed he was bullet-proof and was the master of his universe.
For more than 30 years, McClary has been telling his story, but not dwelling on the past. His one good eye has always been focused on the future.
If you ever see an S.C. license that says FIDO, that'll be the medal-winning lieutenant. Those letters stand for a simple expression: Forget it and drive on. That's his advice to people who get dealt a bad hand.
There's one other question he'll ask in his "yes, sir; no, sir" approach to life. It is simply this: "What'cha gonna do with what'cha got?"
Here's hoping those 92 college all-stars leave Charleston with an even deeper understanding of what it really means to be a hero.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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