Vietnam Vet Talks Legacy, Remembers Fallen Daughter
By Dr. Michael McClung
I enlisted in the Marines on Mother’s Day 1964 and served until 1979. During deployments to Vietnam and Okinawa, I left my wife and two children and was away during the early years of our marriage. It was God, corps, and country, and then family.
As a Vietnam veteran, I am honored by several individuals who form my legacy and symbolize for me all others who have served and sacrificed. These individuals include my father, Colonel Boyd McClung, who entered the U.S. Army in 1942, fought in Italy, and served for 20 years before retiring as a commander; my Basic School roommate, Joseph T. Laslie, Jr., who was one of 689 2nd lieutenants to die in Vietnam; and my fellow platoon commander and my best man at my wedding, Colonel Williams “Rich” Higgins, who while on a U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Lebanon was captured, tortured for two years, and eventually hung by a group allied with Hezbollah.
I think of them often and speak their names at every opportunity.
My daughter, Megan, did not tell my wife and me that she was planning to attend the Naval Academy. We discovered that Meg planned to be an infantry officer in the Marines. I pointed out that the law did not allow that. Upon finishing TBS, she said she was going to be a public affairs officer. We thought this had wonderful potential for a job after her service, but she said, “Nope, this way I can go anywhere the Infantry does, and I don’t have to worry about the law.”
Arriving in Iraq for the second time in 2006, Captain Megan McClung worked as the embed coordinator for I MEF. She already knew everyone of importance after her first tour and eventually convinced the powers that be to allow her to conduct the first Marine Corps Marathon ever held outside the United States – and remarkably, the first marathon ever held in Iraq.
After her promotion to major, Megan jumped on the opportunity to become the U.S. Army’s Ready First combat brigade’s public affairs officer. She left that her assignment in Fallujah was too far to the rear. She was running to the sound of the guns. The commanding officer, Colonel Sean MacFarland, reported that Megan had a major impact on the morale of his soldiers.
While escorting a journalist after a meeting with Sheikh Sittar of the Anbar Awakening, Megan was killed on December 6, 2006, by an improvised explosive device in Ar Ramadi. The same explosion that wrecked Megan’s HUMVEE killed Captain Travis Patriquin and Specialist Vincent Pomante.
Megan said that if she had to die, she wished it would be in a spectacular manner while on a magnificent adventure. She was living that adventure in the Marines. When asked if I would change Megan’s life, I answer that I would not change a thing. Megan wanted a life of challenge, service, and sacrifice, and I would not deny her that.
After burying my daughter, people sought us out to tell us how she affected their lives.
They continue her legacy of being “present” with everyone, and they name their daughters after her. We received a package from Afghanistan with mementos from this year’s MC Marathon at Camp Leatherneck. Included were thanks for Megan’s ability to make a lasting change in people’s lives.
All of the people mentioned here committed to serving our country at any level of sacrifice. Our spouses served alongside by foregoing careers, stable homes, and often the companionship and comfort of loved ones. Service permeates all we do. You can see it in the men and women of the Armed Forces today, who give time and talents to help others. When not in combat, we respond to earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, floods and fires.
Now that The Education Center has broken ground, I make a simple request for you. If you do not know a name on The Wall – or one in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery for service men and women who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan – choose one. We who have fought have a legacy of service; we only ask that you let us know that we are not forgotten.
Dr. Michael McClung was a former Marine captain and earned the Vietnam Service Medal. His daughter, Megan, was the first female Marine Corps officer killed in combat in Iraq. Dr. McClung passed away recently; this essay is based on his remarks at the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Education Center in 2012.
This excerpt was taken from a compilation of Essays on Respect, compiled by Jan Scruggs. To donate to help build the Education Center at The Wall, click here.