Veteran’s Voice: John J. Clevenger
Veteran’s Voice: John J. Clevenger
John J. Clevenger, of Excelsior Springs, was drafted into the U.S. Army in January of 1968. Following Basic Training at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, Clevenger was transferred to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas where he was trained as a combat medic.
He deployed to Vietnam in June of 1968, before returning to the States on August 21, 1969. John was part of an experimental team consisting of three men sent into isolated areas. There were nine such teams and they were left without food or much extra ammunition. There were very infrequent helicopter flights bringing them limited supplies. They were expected to live off the land, protect themselves, and attempt to win the support of isolated Vietnamese people. As a result, they took AK-47’s and ammo from the enemy. At times they wore the black pajamas of the Viet Cong in order to help escape detection. Nonetheless, they regularly came under attack by small groups of Viet Cong. This allowed them to collect more weapons and ammo. Their 3-man base camp was near a tiny forest village and was very near the Cambodian border. They were very near a travel route for Viet Cong hiding in Cambodia to Moc Hoa or Saigon, accounting for fairly frequent contact with small groups of the enemy.
The U.S. base at Moc Hoa came under enemy attack on April 28 in a battle which raged for three days. The main protection for the base was three heavily armed Huey helicopters, they were Sea Wolf 305, Sea Wolf 320, and Outlaw 29. All three were shot down during the battle. The remaining portion of the battle was fought at close range within Moc Hoa. There was a very small hospital within Moc Hoa and only one medic. John was transported to the battle scene as the second medic. They were kept very busy, night and day, and John is still bothered to this day by the 21 men who died under his direct care. John related that one of his men that survived arrived with his lower jaw complete missing. While he survived to be transported to an Army Hospital, John never learned the eventual outcome. The battle ended with the withdrawal of the enemy.
On another occasion, John’s 3-man team witnessed the shooting down of an U.S. Helicopter and the capture of four American soldiers. The four captives were transported into Cambodia. Despite order to stay out of Cambodia, John and another team member followed the men and their captors for several miles into Cambodia but were unable to rescue them due to the heavy enemy presence.
In an interesting side story, John recounts that their few deliveries of supplies often had the same Huey pilot, who always called him by name, but would not say who he was and would not remove his helmet visor. It was only after his tour of duty, and back in the states, that he learned the pilot was a first cousin who always volunteered to fly supplies to his location.
John reports that while much of their food was procured from the small Vietnamese village, he and his men also hunted for food, and went “fishing” whereby they would toss a grenade into the stream and selected the particular fish they wished to eat. John and his men operated a small dispensary where they tended to the basic medical needs of the small local population which was very appreciative.
Due to the peculiar circumstances of their deployment, the various the men teams were not authorized for R&R. But he said they were quite happy on the quiet evenings when they could sit and talk to one another and enjoy small quantities of the local beer. He cited this as his best memory of Vietnam. His worst memory, understandably, is the 21 men who died in his care in Moc Hoa.
Following Vietnam, John knocked around at various jobs before founding his own business and securing an Air Force contract to provide and service fire protection equipment which took him to many Air Force bases around the country. After selling the business, he became a high school instructor teaching welding.
As a side note, John enjoys riding motorcycles and belongs to a veteran group of bikers. He is currently having his Harley customized with the names of the 21 men he lost. He intends to “take them on a ride” this coming April to commemorate the 50 years which have elapsed since they lost this lives in service to the nation.