Special PAC event to honor veterans of Vietnam War
A special event honoring Vietnam War veterans and their families will be held March 19 at the Francis Marion Performing Arts Center Pavilion.
The program, titled “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans,” will begin at 10 a.m. Although the event is a special tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War and their families, all area veterans and their families are encouraged to attend. Admission is free. JROTC Cadets from Wilson, West Florence and South Florence high schools will serve as ushers. Golf carts will also be available for those needing assistance from parking areas to the pavilion.
U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Patrick “Cabe” McClary will serve as the guest speaker. A professional speaker, McClary has become a symbol of courage and hope to many veterans and active duty service members.
In 1966, the crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium rejoiced in a season-opening victory by the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team. As fans ran out on the field in celebration, a few spectators decided to burn an American Flag. McClary, a young football coach at USC, saw the situation unfold. The burning of the colors was enough to ignite a fire in his heart.
At age 26, McClary left USC and headed to Parris Island to begin his journey as a U.S. Marine. McClary was one of seven recruits, due to their education, to be sent to Quantico, Va. to attend Officer Candidate School.
Along with thousands of other men and women, McClary joined the armed forces during a time when our country was not only at war but was struggling with internal turmoil. American citizens were staging anti-war protests.
“The country was so torn up about the war that they couldn’t separate the veteran from the war itself, so they painted us with a pretty dark brush,” said Vietnam Veteran Cpl. William Water.
“Instead of returning to parades, our troops returned home to riots and protests,” said retired Maj. Gen. Bob Butcher. “We were told when we got off the airplane that we should change to civilian clothes. We were told not to wear our uniform outside the gate because if we did, we would get spit on. I was often spit on and had things thrown at me and was cursed at…but it was my job and I did it.”
These veterans, said Butcher, were given the worst kind of treatment when they returned home; their service and sacrifice forgotten and for some, they had to carry the scars from the war forever.
McClary was seriously wounded during the war, losing his left arm and left eye.
“I’m just here to thank the troops for what they have done,” said McClary. “People owe them a lot but I owe them my life. If it weren’t for the young men on that hill in Vietnam and the men who gave their lives, I wouldn’t be here. If not for an 18-year-old wife who loved me, cared for me and gave me a reason, a will to live, I’d be dead. We owe the youth of America a lot so I just try to thank them. That’s why I do what I do.”