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Earning Memorial Day

Young war veteran sees the holiday differently now
Monday, May 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:30 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Marine Lance Cpl. John McClellan gets ready to climb into the cockpit of a relic Douglas Skyraider owned by Eric Downing of Midwest Wild Relics Refuge in St. Louis.

In a week, Lance Cpl. John McClellan will get a golden retriever puppy, which he has already named “Lucky,” the same name given to him by his fellow Marines after he was shot twice in one week in Afghanistan.

McClellan, a Hickman High School graduate and lifetime Columbia resident, was later seriously wounded in a sniper attack in Iraq.

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Still an active-duty soldier, McClellan was an honored guest at this weekend’s Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Air Show and this morning’s Memorial Day parade.

“All of the people earned it,” McClellan said of his fellow honored guests. “I earned mine the hard way.”

Today is a special day for the young Marine, who will be celebrating his first Memorial Day since being wounded in Iraq eight months ago.

In October 2005, McClellan earned two Purple Hearts in one week after being shot twice in the right arm in Afghanistan.

On Sept. 26, 2006, while McClellan was on patrol in Haditha, Iraq, a bullet struck him above his left ear and exited through the back of his neck.

McClellan’s mother, Connie, said doctors told her the bullet that entered his head missed his carotid artery by less than a millimeter. The artery supplies the head and neck with oxygenated blood.

“If the Guinness Book of World Records had a record for the most amount of miracles, John would be it,” she said.

On Friday, McClellan completed his last day of rehabilitation at the Rusk Rehabilitation Center in Columbia.

“Right now my balance isn’t 100 percent,” McClellan said. “I’m deaf in my left ear, but I just found out I got back my 20/20 vision in my left eye.”

As a young man, McClellan was more interested in the social aspects of Memorial Day weekend, such as going to the air show and the Lake of the Ozarks, than using the weekend to honor veterans.

McClellan only went to the Memorial Day parade here in Columbia once as a youth. McClellan said as he grew up, he looked forward to the air show the most during Memorial Day weekend, especially when the Blue Angels were performing.

“I didn’t really think about the whole meaning of it,” he said. “I didn’t really know what it meant. It was a day to remember the veterans. I thought it was cool to get off school.”

After graduating from Hickman in 2004, McClellan enlisted in the Marines and left for boot camp in Camp Pendleton, Calif. McClellan attributes his greater respect for Memorial Day to his days in boot camp, where he learned the history of the Marines, as well as to his later experiences while in combat.

“It has a little more meaning since I was in the military,” McClellan said of Memorial Day. “It’s definitely more important to remember the guys who died. It’s a day to remember all of the people who died.”

After his miracles and more than a little bit of luck, McClellan is using this summer as an opportunity to enjoy life to its fullest.

McClellan said he is also planning on possibly leaving the military in the next couple of months. Since this would mean he would no longer have a military-issued identification card, he is planning for a weeklong trip to Scotland in July with two of his cousins by applying for his first U.S. passport.

He’s also considering attending college in the fall, but that all depends on how healthy he is in the next couple of months.

Connie McClellan said she is thrilled that her son is doing so well.

“It’s beyond luck,” she said. “It’s a story about hope, really.”


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