In the spring of 1968, this just before pro golfer Billy Casper would win six tournaments that year and be the leading money winner on the tour, the wildly-popular “Buffalo Bill” was in Japan playing some off-season tournaments. He was asked if he would like to visit some American soldiers who had been seriously wounded and Casper, ever the gentleman, said of course.
As he melted at the sight of America’s youngest heroes who were missing limbs and were horribly disfigured at the height of the Viet Nam war, he noticed one soldier who hadn’t moved. The doctor whispered this particular young Marine would probably die but Billy, the size of his heart best evidenced by the fact five of his 11 children are adopted, walked to where he could whisper in the wounded warrior’s ear: “God could use you today … don’t give up.”
That’s the story Clebe McClary told to his neighbor over a year ago in Pawley’s Island, S.C. Clebe, a phenomenal motivational speaker who has been in Chattanooga numerous times, happened to be talking that singular afternoon to Jay Haas, who played in 22 Masters tournaments as a professional. Haas asked Clebe if he remembered the golfer’s name who had given him a life-saving pep talk and Clebe answered, “Billy Casper … did you ever know him?”
Haas just smiled and nodded. “I had just about given up,” Clebe told his neighbor. “My arm had been blown off, my left eye was gone and I wanted to die. I think I’d have died right there if not for him,” he continued and Haas immediately made an unspoken vow to himself.
Knowing the beloved Casper hasn’t ever missed being at the Masters since he won the fabled tournament’s green jacket in 1970, Haas arranged for Clebe to come to Augusta to ostensibly watch Jay’s son Bill play in this year’s event.
As they met at the big oak tree near the clubhouse where so many reunions take place every year, an 82-year-old man stepped from the shadows and walked towards Clebe and Jay. Casper and McClary hadn’t seen each other or talked in 46 years, but each has thought of the other often. As the two men embraced Billy, in the same quiet tone he used long ago one day in Japan, told Clebe, “Don’t let go till you want to let go…” McClary openly sobbed at the sound of Casper’s voice.
In a moving article that just appeared in GolfWeek, writer Jim McCabe wrote the two men “hugged and hugged and hugged,” the warm embrace lasting five minutes. Everybody who helped arrange the reunion wept openly. “We all just cried our eyes out. You never know what effect you are going to have on another human being,” said Casper’s daughter, Julia Cervantes, as she stood with her mother and her uncle, the delighted Bob Goalby who ironically won at Augusta in 1968.
McClary, who hardly needed to apologize for his raw emotions, told Casper how proud he was to have heeded the pro’s advice, “to stay strong and find faith in God,” which is something coming from a man who earned both the Silver Star and Bronze Star at a huge price. “My guardian angel,” Clebe said as he pointed to the still spry Casper.
Isn’t it funny how such things unfold? “I was recently asked how I wanted to be remembered,” Casper told the golf writer, “and I told him, ‘I want to be remembered for how I loved my fellow man.’” McClary is the same way. The Marine’s business card reads, “I am just a nobody, that wants to tell everybody, about somebody, that can save anybody.”
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AN EASTER THOUGHT
“Jesus had no servants, yet they called Him Master.
“Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher
“Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer.
“Had no army, yet kings feared Him.
“He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world.
“He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him.
“He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today.”
Billy Casper and Clebe McClary greet one another at this year's Masters' tournament 46 years after the golfer encouraged the critically-wounded Marine.
- Photo2 by Julia Cervantes, (Billy Casper's daughter)