Lance Cpl. John McClellan, 20, has a tattoo of shamrocks below his belly button. The image symbolizes the nickname his fellow Marines gave him, “Lucky,” after he was shot in his right arm twice in one week last October, while serving with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Echo Company in Afghanistan.
Tuesday, while serving his second tour overseas, this time in Haditha, Iraq, the 2004 Hickman High School graduate was shot a third time. McClellan was injured when an AK-47 bullet entered his head over his left ear and exited the back of his neck, his mother, Connie McClellan of Columbia, said. During a five-hour surgery at a hospital in Balad, Iraq, doctors removed bone fragments and some brain tissue. He was then transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
His mother said McClellan’s brain swelled as a result of the injury, requiring a low-flying flight to Germany so the air pressure wouldn’t further damage his brain. McClellan is scheduled to arrive today at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. His parents and sister, Jane Bowman, 32, of Chicago, will meet him there.
Connie McClellan said she was thankful for the military’s assistance in taking care of her family’s travel arrangements.
“We’ve been very impressed with the Marines on how they’ve been taking care of us,” she said.
Doctors at the Balad hospital called Connie McClellan and her husband and McClellan’s father, Carl McClellan, around 1 a.m. Wednesday to tell them their son had been shot. His mother said it was the first time she had received the dreaded phone call from a third party, because the two previous times her son had been shot, he was less seriously injured and able to call his parents himself.
Connie McClellan said that when the doctors first called, the prognosis was that if her son survived, he would probably be a vegetable. Thursday morning, however, she said the doctor who called was “jubilant” because McClellan’s condition had improved. Although he was still unconscious, he was responding to commands and his vital signs were good.
“It was an antithesis of the report (Wednesday),” she said. “So what do you think made it happen? I call it a miracle.”
Allison Cooper, 20, who graduated from Hickman with McClellan, said he’s “invincible,” and that she and their other friends “knew if anyone would pull through, he would.”
McClellan left for Iraq on Sept. 11 of this year.
“That was his job, that’s what he signed up to do, and he is a great Marine dedicated to serving his country,” Cooper, who is a junior at MU, said.
Allen Johanning, 20, who has been friends with McClellan since they were 5 years old, thought McClellan will probably want to return to Iraq if he can.
“There’s no telling with him,” Johanning said. “But he’s very devoted to it and committed to what he does,” Johanning, a junior at MU, said.
Wednesday night, more than 120 people gathered at the McClellan home on Blue Ridge Road to pray for the Marine’s recovery.
“It was just unbelievably moving, and I just believe God heard our prayers and he answered them,” Connie McClellan said. “They met at (Oakland Park) and filed single-file with candles. It was really quite something.”
She said her son’s friends from high school came, as well as her friends and her husband’s friends, including “people that I haven’t seen in 20 years that were here for us.”
The vigil was organized by Sam and Tammy Boyce, friends of the McClellan family. Tom Leuther, the pastor of the McClellans’ church, Family Worship Center in Columbia, led the service. Leuther said he also dedicated the church’s Thursday morning prayer and Thursday evening midweek service to pray for McClellan.
“It was such an honor to be asked to lead,” Leuther said. “And I was so touched by the community support. So many different people that I didn’t know came for the cause of lifting up this prayer. It was just very heartwarming.”
Leuther said Carl and Connie McClellan seemed “encouraged” and “had a tremendous amount of hope” at the vigil.
McClellan enlisted in the Marines when he was 17 and a junior at Hickman, his mother said. In his year on inactive duty and two years active, he has earned three Purple Hearts, awarded to members of the American armed forces injured while deployed. His unit is based at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
His mother said that Carl McClellan, McClellan’s father, served in the Army during the Vietnam War, which may have played a role in her son’s decision to enlist.
Connie McClellan said her biggest concern right now is McClellan’s vision and speech, as the condition of each cannot be judged until he’s conscious.
She was looking forward to greeting her son in Washington.
“Our biggest thrill is being there with him, especially when he opens his eyes and says ‘Hi, Mom and Dad,’” she said.