War and Memories

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More About This Title War and Memories


It was another miserable, hot day in the hell they called Dong Ha, Vietnam. I was hanging on the fence just below the razor wire with my head dropped in shame. The rock I had just thrown at the POW missed, but the act stung like a killer bee. I knew instantly when he glanced towards me and our eyes met it was a cowardly act. “The Look” he gave would serve me well for the rest of my life. We were two young men caught in a war we both knew very little about. One was being held as a trophy on display and the other just angry; waiting for his ride home from a hell hole they called war. Who put us there does not factor. Only how we conduct the acts we are obligated to perform stands the test of time. Those acts will be memories parading through our minds for the rest of our lives causing shame, guilt, pride, or lack of either. Within seconds after throwing that rock I knew he and I would both always remember this moment in time. The empathy overwhelming at times ends only when hopeful thoughts of his survival relieve the vision. Our path crossing again is unlikely, but that memory serves as a reminder that we will always be inseparable in thought. This early lesson in humanity guided many actions of a nineteen year old into maturity with constant reminders. Repeating an episode of this behavior was never repeated again. So for that one look, that one look of disappointment in the prisoner’s eyes I owe a deep sincere appreciation. With that split second stare I obtained a valuable necessary lesson in life. In the Library of Congress the book of U.S. Marines in Vietnam “An Expanding War” 1966 there is mention of a prisoner captured near the Cam Lo and Dong Ha area. Under some persuasion and interrogation he gave up the plans of the Northern invaders to retake the Rock Pile and DMZ areas of Vietnam. In this little French made fort the process of extracting this information took place only one thin wall away from my presence. Making sense of it all is the question I keep asking myself these days. We live, love, laugh, prosper, and enjoy our lives for so many years before this question even becomes a thought. In an almost panic to put it all together we may feel compelled to divide our lives in sections of importance. Remembering what made us this way, what developed our skills, and how they were acquired must shed light on where our personality and traits, good or bad, came from. This writer hopes somehow after reading this memoir others can relate to their childhood knowing that maturity feeds the question “who am I”, and how did I get this way? If we are to understand this, then it would seem possible to come to grips with our accomplishments and disappointments in a manner that will help us understand the twists and turns of your own lives. This look back should not be to find blame for our decisions. We were all “in charge” of our lives after a certain age. We have all had the option to change directions at any time during our adult years. Even though our childhood experiences had profound influence on our future, we all eventually knew right from wrong, and the decisions we made, good or bad, became solely our responsibility. The potential of severe emotional toll that surfaces on most all participants is not to be taken lightly. Looking back through the years with as much detachment and humor as possible feels like a much healthier agenda. Does denying our negative history enable us to start over, or just suggest the inability to let it go? No need, it will always be there. The primary fuel for starting this memoir has been to explore the lasting effect on combat-zone youth and military or civilian personal with similar exposure to war. I hope the following chapters will expose the intent to explain lack of accomplishments or poor choices of direction is not to lay blame on others. Own It, heal it, and survive the experience with a measure of success.


Anxious to live life to its fullest upon serving four years in the Marines, Gary rushed into things he felt passionate about. After surviving as a combat marine in Vietnam, he caddied on the West Coast Swing's PGA tour for a few years. He embarked on a Radio career that included disc-jockey work and jingle production and, although Gary had successful careers in both radio and construction, he was always involved in music. He has produced hit records, had songs placed in movies and TV and was band leader for Country Music Hall of Fame artist Johnny Western. Gary obtained his General Contractor's license in 2000 and has built over 2 dozen multi-family housing projects. Today, although officially retired, because of his reputation as a highly skilled Contractor, he is often asked to be a consultant on major construction projects. Clemmons has few regrets as he looks back on his life. In this autobiography, he has revisited the good times and the bad, the successes and the struggles. He has shared, as best he can, those moments of clarity that have helped him make sense of the path his life has taken after a combat tour. Most importantly he has allowed himself to gain some peace and understanding. In a combat zone one will learn to embrace each day as if it could be your last. The urgency and the rush, along with a noticeably more serious outlook experienced in combat, becomes natural behavior when each day presents a challenge to survive. This acute awareness did not come with an off and on switch. It lingers with intensity and becomes a major part of a personality. There is an invisible shield emblazoned with the caveat, “They are out to get me” across the top and "Be prepared to act first" across the bottom. Most veterans who have experienced a war zone will remain in a state of paranoia unless they seek counseling. PTSD, you say? What is it and what are the symptoms? It can vary for each individual. But studies have also discovered there are several similarities. Many returning combat veterans have had broken homes and multiple marriages. They have worked in several different professions and suffer from serious episodes of depression. Some have a very difficult time making good decisions and achieving goals so become prone to serious personality disorders. Gary's hope is that by sharing his story, it will inspire a few of America’s current returning combat veterans to never lose hope. The memories, stories, and recollections in this memoir are unique to the author. His personal decisions along with planned and unplanned experiences have shaped a unique individual just as your actions have defined who you are today. But in many ways we are all the same. We want to be happy and respected with whom we are. Some will deny it, but we all want to feel accepted and loved. Many veterans learn to only allow a certain level of closeness. As we interact with each other through life’s journey, let’s have some compassion for others and occasionally whisper, “It could have been me”.