Eugene Clary, 87, has an incredible memory when it comes to his military service, so much so he could write a book and have no problem filling the pages. The Hamilton resident served 21 years in both the Air Force and Army; once retired, he worked in a career that directly evolved from his military experience.
Born in Sweetwater, Clary’s father was a school teacher who moved frequently. The family lived in Brownwood with his mom’s parents until 1934, when they moved to Turnersville just outside Gatesville.
Clary said the family had few problems during the Great Depression, and later, the start of World War II. They grew their own meat and vegetables and had C-stamps for gas rationing, but had trouble getting sugar.
When Clary went to school, it took only 11 years to complete an education, rather than the 12 today. He graduated in 1947 and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he studied basic training with medical service. He had notions of one day becoming a doctor.
Clary finished with high scores and got his pick of the medical area he wanted to specialize in and decided on X-ray. “You got to stay dry in X-ray,” he said.
After being stationed in San Antonio, he went to Holloman AFB in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where he discovered it didn’t have a medical group, so “I was arbitrarily transferred to the Army” as a SCARWAF (Special Category Army with Air Force).
Back in the Air Force
About two years later, Clary transferred to Kelly AFB, where a new medical group had been established and moved to Hill AFB in northern Utah. He was back in the Air Force. To his delight, in addition to his hospital work, he had a hand in helping with the Berlin Airlift, where he stenciled information on boxes to mark its contents and helped move supplies.
Clary had his first fortunate experience when the Korean War broke out in 1950. He was slated to go to Japan, but due to a clerical error, he wound up at Hickam in Hawaii. “It didn’t bother me a bit,” he said. At the time, X-rays were conducted in the barracks, which “still had bullet holes from WWII,” he said. “They had been left as a reminder to make sure we didn’t forget.”
His stay in Hawaii was short-lived, however. After four months, President Harry Truman extended everyone’s service time by one year and offered a bonus for those re-enlisting. Clary took the deal and joined the Army for an additional six years. By this time, he had decided to make the military his career.
Clary was transferred to a replacement center in Stoneman, California, usually the last stop before going overseas. The Army was moving to fill slots in Korea because war was on. “We were supposed to leave ASAP, because they were getting the daylights kicked out of them in Korea,” he said.
That’s when his second fortunate event occurred. Scheduled to transfer to Pusan, Korea, another error landed him in Osaka, Japan, where an X-ray technician was needed. Clary started work at a hospital on night duty, taking X-rays for morning rounds.
“It was the most satisfying career,” Clary said.
Men wounded, mind and body
Clary saw a lot in Japan, where the wounded men were a mixed bag. There were plenty of people with self-inflicted wounds trying to get out of the service. “They could be shot in the morning and be in Japan by that evening,” he said. The line of the self-inflicted was nearly a block long. One unfortunate person died on him.
Another with a self-inflicted wound had tried to shoot off his finger and missed. He put the gun against his hand and fired again. The explosion blew the skin off his arm.
He met many characters, such as the man nicked in the calf who cried like a baby, Clary said. They put him between two seriously wounded men, but it didn’t change his attitude until a nurse confronted him.
Conversely, he met some amazing people, such as a young, sweet man who had both feet blown off in a mortar attack. He was upbeat and happy because the mortar didn’t blow up his “family jewels,” Clary said
There was more that went on in his three years in Japan. Another man, shot in the butt, was bragging about his conquests for all to hear. When the doctor checked his chart, he laughed. An MP had shot the man as he was leaving a house of ill repute and refused to stop.
NEXT WEEK: In 1953, Clary’s life changes forever.