By Rich Acritelli
On Veterans Day, there are always unique stories that originate from North Shore citizens who fulfilled their military duty to defend this nation.
Rocky Point resident Michael McClure, a member of the U.S. Army for two decades, had some extremely memorable experiences in the service.
This mild-mannered resident, who retired from the Army in 1995, was a native of North Massapequa and attended Farmingdale High School. As a young man, he was a three-sport athlete, who enjoyed cross country, track and wrestling. McClure was a talented runner, who was in superb physical shape, and ran many races through the polo fields, hills and trails at Bethpage State Park.
After graduating from high school in 1971, McClure attended college for one year and eventually traveled to Washington state. West of Seattle, he worked as a logger at Port Angeles, located on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. This Nassau County boy was about 3,000 miles away from Long Island, where he learned how to drop trees, load them onto trucks and cut these massive pieces of wood into sections.
Four years after leaving Farmingdale, McClure enlisted in the Army in April of 1975. He was trained by Vietnam, Korea, World War II and Cold War veterans with combat experience in Southeast Asia. At this point in the mid-1970s, the military was in poor shape after the Americans had pulled out of Vietnam with a diminished amount of funding toward the U.S. Armed Forces. But McClure was a young man who was always in good condition, and he was motivated to do well in the Army.
After he completed his initial training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he was a combat engineer who was transferred to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he learned how to move, store and detonate smaller nuclear weapons. Through the Medium Atomic Demolition Munition, also known as MADM, and the Special Atomic Demolition Munition, known as SADM, McClure learned how to use these weapons as obstacles and to slow down any potential Soviet military advances toward American territory and troops.
An even-keeled individual, McClure easily describes his time as a combat engineer who received enhanced training to handle sensitive weapons and national security knowledge.
By 1986, with over a decade of service and experience under his belt, McClure entered the special operations forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At the height of the Cold War under the aggressive direction and funding of President Ronald Reagan (R) to defeat the Soviet Union, McClure was a sergeant first class and a “Green Beret.” Always in sound physical shape, McClure flourished within the advanced techniques and operations of this highly respected fighting force. He served with the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where the Green Berets prepared to oppose the Soviet menace.
For nearly 15 years, McClure was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, with the engineers and later the Special Forces. For many years, McClure spoke fluent German and he enjoyed his time living abroad in this allied country. He was a well-rounded noncommissioned officer who was instructed how to decipher and use intelligence for potential operations with the Green Berets.
During the Gulf War in 1991, McClure was not deployed immediately to the Middle East, rather his Green Beret unit was ordered to undertake serious training at Fort Bragg which his leadership refused to cancel. While this was a quick ground war that took only three days to defeat the Iraqi army in Kuwait, McClure was soon deployed to the region. Although Saddam Hussein was seriously crippled by the onslaught of American and coalition forces, the Iraqis held enough weapons to oppose the Shiites in southern Iraq and the Kurdish opposition groups in the northern mountainous areas.
Operating 10,000 feet above sea level, through Operation Provide Comfort, McClure was sent to help the Kurdish minority group survive the assaults being waged against them by Hussein. From the ground, McClure witnessed the northern no-fly zone that was established to prevent Iraqi aggressive aircraft from attacking the almost powerless Kurds.
McClure understood the Kurds suffered greatly at the hands of the Iraqi dictator, as they were attacked with biological and chemical weapons. The Kurds fought during the Gulf War and desperately wanted their homeland removed from the abusive power of Hussein. McClure saw the abandoned Kurdish towns which had been gassed and the poor regions of this part of Iraq, where people still traveled on dirt roads and goat trails.
After his time in Iraq, McClure was then stationed in eastern Italy, not too far from the civil war that raged between the Serbians, Bosnians and Croatians in the former Yugoslavia. This once-communist nation was torn apart by the fighting and the brutal ethnic cleansing that dictated in the mid-1990s an American military presence to aid the weaker Bosnian forces.
With aerial missions being flown over the rugged Balkan Mountains, McClure and his Green Beret detachment were ordered to provide support for air rescues for pilots who were shot down or forced to parachute during this war. The 2001 film, “Behind Enemy Lines,” is a military combat film starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman that depicts parts of the terrible Yugoslavian conflict. McClure liked this film that had a good amount of action, but he doubted its historical accuracy.
Back in the USA
After spending many years out of the United States, often on dangerous missions that ranged from handling nuclear weapons to working with the Kurdish rebels, McClure retired as a master sergeant from the Army in 1995.
Back in Rocky Point, McClure in civilian life for many years was a tractor-trailer driver. Currently, he delivers home heating oil for Swezey Fuel in Patchogue. Still an active man, he stays in good shape by competing in the annual Lt. Michael P. Murphy memorial run around Lake Ronkonkoma and Blydenburgh Park. McClure is an avid reader of military history, exercises almost every day and enjoys the chance to visit his family members in Colorado.
May we never forget and always show appreciation toward veterans such as Michael McClure, who handled hazardous tasks and selflessly defended this proud nation.
Author Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.