Vietnam Veteran Remembers Charleston Marine Who Saved His Life

March 22, 2018, 10:43 am EST | Share:

CHARLESTON, SC (ALEX HEATON, WTAT-TV) — It’s been 50-years this month since Clebe McClary’s life changed.

“This is the hardest month for Cleve,” said Deanna, who had only been married to Clebe for six months when he left for Vietnam. “His whole persona changes a little bit in March. I used to wonder why ‘what have I done? He seems a little on edge,’ then I realized war comes home, and you learn to adapt to your new warrior.”

“We were out there by ourselves with the enemy all around us,” Clebe said of his mission. The night on Hill 146 in Vietnam, when a young marine from Charleston gave his life for his country and his brothers.

“I hate to lose Ralph, but if he hadn’t done it I wouldn’t be here,” McClary said. “Did he want to do it, I don’t know. He ended up on it, and I’m alive. I would have been trying to get the heck out of there. I’m not a hero. Ralph Johnson is a hero.”

McClary was Johnson’s Lieutenant in his reconnaissance battalion. The two quickly forged a bond over their southern roots.

“He talked Gullah and I talked southern,” he said. “We got along real well. Them Yankees, we couldn’t understand anyway. My mate would get on the radio and didn’t know what I was saying, he just made it up.”

McClary and his wife are in Charleston for the commissioning of the Naval ship named in honor of Ralph. A man close to their heart.

“There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend,” she said.

They are most excited about getting the team back together to celebrate Ralph.

“It’s the first time that we’ve all been together, and it’s the last time,” he said. “We know that.

A week of healing, hope, and honor all in Ralph’s name. “Ralph would be embarrassed,” Clebe said. “He would be shy. He would smile and be happy. I’m sure he would be proud of his city.”

McClary gave one of his eyes and arms in service that night in Vietnam.

His wife said it took spending more than two and half years with Cleve in a VA hospital as he recovered to understand how important it is not to take freedom for granted.