Veterans Voice: Rodney L. Clevenger

Rodney L. Clevenger of Polo (MO) served his country as a member of the United States Marine Corps. He was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 3022nd Platoon.

Rodney attended Central Missouri State University, measuring in Chemistry. He was married at the time he entered the Marine Corps. He took Basic Training in San Diego, then to Camp Pendleton for additional training.

From Camp Pendleton, Rodney was sent to the Navy Support Activity, Mid-South, where he trained in Avionics, Radar Technician. He was trained specifically on the F4B Phantom Jets. While at Memphis he took an examination where he graduated 3rd in a class of 103. He was a candidate for Officer Candidate School and Pilot Training except for technicalities including the fact that he was married.

From Memphis he went to the Marine Corps Air Station—Cherry Point (North Carolina), where he spent a little over 2 full years. He was only 10 months from completing his military service when he was sent to Vietnam. While at Memphis he participated in “war games”. On one occasion his expertise as a radar operator led to the shooting down of a drone, which effective stopped the war games since there was not a replacement drone.

After a stopover in Okinawa, Rodney arrived in Vietnam, landing at Da Nang Air Base which was the entry point for almost all American troops into Vietnam. Rodney would end up spending his entire tour at Da Nang. He was assigned to the Headquarters and Maintenance Squadron. Proficient in typing, he was assigned to the Staff Office.

Da Nang is a large base which came under enemy rocket attacks from time to time. Initially the perimeter was guarded by Air Force and Marine personnel. After that duty was turned over to Republic of Vietnam troops, the number of rocket attacks increased. The enemy primarily targeted aircraft and runways with rockets landing far from Marine housing. They would often climb atop their “hooches” (living quarters) and watch the rockets hit.

Rodney was assigned to transport the Commanding Officers, which gave him access to a Jeep. There were always a number of soldiers arrested for various offenses and he was often assigned to provide transport to the Brig. He also picked up medical patients and transported them to treatment centers. He often drove on Highway One, a contested route.

He said that it was amazing how many men from Polo and vicinity he saw while in Vietnam. It was always a boost to his morale when he saw people he knew from “back home”.

One day he noted a tremendous number of planes leaving the base and heading north to the point there were virtually no planes left on base. That turned out to be part of Operation Ivory Coast, which was an attempt to rescue some 61 prisoners of war thought to be in a particular North Vietnamese holding center. Fifty-six Special Ops troops were landed at the compound. Unfortunately, the POW’s had already been moved. While the mission overall was considered a success, it led to a revamping of the intelligence community.

One drawback for Rodney was driving around the south end of the base which took him by the base morgue. He said that was a sad duty and would always bring back the reality of war.

His worst memory of the stint in Vietnam occurred after he returned home in July of ’71. The sudden sound of fireworks would create a brief panic and reflex actions. Fortunately this problem soon disappeared as he adjusted back to civilian life.

He said that one of the negatives of being in Vietnam was the amount of drinking and, for some, marijuana usage. There was always a lot of “down time” on the base and little to do but drink. Rodney drank, but after returning home and teaching Sunday school, he gave up drinking.

After military service, Rodney went to work for NCR for two years doing electronic work. He worked on freight docks for a short while before being hired by Ford Motors, eventually moving into a salaried, supervised position. He retired from Ford after 35 years (he retired after 31, but was asked to come back to work for another 4 years). He currently works for the Caldwell County Detention Center, located just west of Kingston. 

Some months after his return to civilian life he received a visit in Polo from a Naval Officer who presented him with the Navy Commendation Medal for his outstanding service. It is a beautiful medal of which he is justly proud.

Rodney and his wife Carol live a little south of Polo and recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary. Rodney remain in great shape and enjoys the game of golf.   

My Cameron News

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Cameron, MO 64429
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