You want to know why I didn't get the Medal of Honor? I'll tell you why. Because I violated the Geneva Convention. Our boys down there were without ammunition. So I loaded my medevac ship with food, water and ammunition. A medevac ship. I don't give a damn about the Geneva Convention now, I didn't give a damn about it then -- because they didn't.They shot my ship full of holes.
When Hugh McClure came home from Vietnam after 18 months as a medevac helicopter pilot, there were no brass bands playing. Like thousands of other veterans who answered the call to Vietnam out of a sense of duty, rather than political pretense, McClure could not help feeling bitter and betrayed.
In the 11 years since his return, however, his bitterness has not subsided. Instead, it grows more intense. With each new book and movie pretending to tell the story -- what he sees as his story -- his outrage deepens.
McClure was bitter enough to write a book, though he had never written before. But it wasn't enough. With fire in his eyes and vengence in his heart, McClure is making a movie to set the record straight.
The incredible thing is, he just might pull it off.
Already McClure, who leads a comfortable life in Leesburg as a $37,000-a-year air traffic controller, has written the screenplay. Last month his script received vital Defense Department approval and, through Defense contacts, he found Harold M. Wiener, a producer who lives in Arlington, to direct te film.
In the last few weeks, since advertising limited partnerships in the $350,000 production, dozens of other veterans have come forth with both money and offers of assistance.
It is a venture facing odds that might have turned others away months ago. An "Apocolypse Now," which took more than three years and $31 million to produce, it is not. And it would not be the first Vietnam movie to fail to get off the ground.
But M*U*S*T: The Viet Nam Years" is not just any Vietnam movied: it is Hugh McClure's.
I remember seeing a boy rip out his IVs [intravenous tubes] because his b---- had been blown off. He looked down and his legs had just been blown away. He kept pulling out his IVs and shouting, "They made a woman out of me! They made a woman out of me!" I looked at him and thought, Jesus Christ, let that poor m----------- die.
Hugh McClure is a man driven by rage. Not because he failed to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was decorated with nearly every other medal for valor the Army has to offer. Not because he was shot down four times and wounded three in Vietnam. He came home in one piece. And not because the war ruined his marriage. He was divorced, remarried recently, and though in the rocess of divorcing again, seems content.
He believes the country he fought for is trying to make him out to be a fool.
"I remember coming home and being treated like s---," says McClure through his walrus moustache. "I've always had to fight back for fighting in Vietnam. I've always had to justify it. It's been a fight since the war to vindicate the boys who fought over there and died in the rice paddies."
As a medevac pilot, McClure's job was one of the war's most grisly. It was because of McClure and men like him that soldiers wounded most awsomely managed to survive.
Sometimes he landed in battle zones under fire to pick up body bags filled, not with men, but dismembered parts of men. Sometimes, when he shows his home movies of the war to friends, McClure forgets many civilians don't know the full meaning of the word "casualty."
McClure dreamed of becoming a Navy pilot. He took his first flying lesson when he was 12; first soloed in a Piper J3 Cub when he was 16. The biplanes at Norfolk Municipal Airport fascinated him. One day he told a seasoned crop duster, "I'll wash your plane and wax it if you take me flying." s
But when McClure tried to enlist for the Navy's flight school, he had to lie. The Navy wanted single men and McClure had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and married her.
"I immediately started begging. I told them I'd get a divorce."
He stood at the airport gate and watched eight young trainees board the C-117 transport plane for Pensacola. He cried then, he says, and he cries, laughing, when he tells the story now.
A few months later I got a letter form the Army saying they were looking for helicopter pilots. I had just given up hope of becoming a military pilot. fAnd I had never flown a helicopter. But it just happened that when I got the letter I was watching a TV documentary about an Army medevac pilot. It was an incredible display of bravery. It was obvious that this young kid had his stuff in order. I looked at that and thought, "I could do that. And I probably should do that."
McClure had already logged hundreds of flying hours as a commercial pilot out of Norfolk. He was one of the only medevac helicopter jockies in the 1st Air Calvary Division in Vietnam with an instrument rating.
In Vietnam, McClure says, he discovered that the Red Cross insigna on his Huey helicopter offered little protection. "The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese did not respect anything with the red cross on it. They used it as an aiming mark."
He was first wounded flying when a bullet penetrated his ballistic helmet, nicked the top of his head and shot out the other side. Another slug went through the chopper's battery and instrument panel before entering his groin.
"I remember one time being under fire and suddenly feeling something wet splash against my face. Instinctively I wiped it off and saw gray matter on my hand. I looked over at my copilot and saw the side of his head had been blown off."
But McClure remembers much of his year in Viet Nam goofing off: buzzing the nurses' favorite sunbathing spot; slipping devenomed cobras into the sleeping bags of unwitting new pilots; revealing his derriere to delighted ground crews.
"I had dysentery at the time. So I had a Vietnamese tailor fix my jump suit with a flap that fastened with Velcro snaps."
When the country began to examine the Vietnam years, and began turning out Hollywood's film versions, McClure found this part of his own memories missing. "They make us out to be nothing but a bunch of damn killers. People would watch these films and say, "That's what you guys were doing over there?"
The night I saw "The Boys in Company C," I came home so mad. I thought, "Those damn bastards, they'll bastardize every kid who fought in that war." And I kicked a hole in the front door. Then I came upstairs to my little office and got out some tapes I recorded there and the 1st Air Cavalry Division History Book. What I saw were good, decent young men who had been put into a situation they had no control over. And they were being bastardized by these guys with artistic licence.
McClure started typing. He wrote during his breaks at the Air Traffic Control Center in Leesburg and typed some more when he came home. Three years later, he would have a completed manuscript of 1,000 pages. In the meantime, he went to Hollywood for advice.
In a roundabout way, he had rescued comedienne Martha Raye in Vietnam. She was entertaining the troops when a mortar attack caught her in the behind with a piece of shrapnel. He flew her out at night in a storm and she left her card.
Her advice to McClure: write a screenplay. But if you do, keep it out of Hollywood before somebody steals it.
"I said, 'what do you do?' And they [in Hollywood] said, 'Have you ever thought about making it yourself?' That put the but in my mind, Me? Make a movie? What do I know about making a movie? I bit the bullet. I came home and said, I can, I will -- and I did."
With a few Vietnam veteran friends, McClure formed his own production company, Vvm (vIetnam Veteran Memorial) Corp. Newspaper advertisments have already raised more than 10 percent of the $350,000 budget.
I always felt that the guys who served in the war were being trashed upon.
It was like we were people the public was trying to forget. But we can't take a whole generation of men and hide 'em under the carpet.
Ken Perkins was 21 when he became pilot of a Cobra attack helicopter in Vietnam. Now 33, he works as a messenger in Washington. He can't afford a share in the move, he said, but signed on as a technical adviser.
"Everything that's been said about the Vietnam war has been a bunch of horses---," said Perkins. "And I wanted to be part of something that was done properly."
In recent weeks, dozens of veterans have responded in kind. "What fascinated us," said director Weiner, "is that it's being funded primarily by Vietnam veterans -- and put together by Vietnam veterans. I've got amputees coming into my office volunteering to play casualties."
Finding money and talent for the film may prove the easiest part of making "M*U*S*T*." Once the film is in the can, the company must find someone willing to distribute it, and theater owners willing to show it.
"Most people have been turned off by Vietnam films," said Ron Goldman, part owner of K-B Theaters. "They don't want to deal with it. "Apocolypse Now" can't be viewed as a bellwether for success."
Hugh McClure, however, will not be deterred. Production is scheduled to begin this spring at Camp A.P. Hill, a military base used mostly to train reservists and national guardsmen, located south of Fredericksburg.
"We're going to start building the sets in November instead of October because of the snakes," said McClure. "I'm afraid of snakes. I really am."
And though no one expects to make much money from "M*U*S*T," 1 percent has been set aside for a planned memorial to the Vietnam veterans.
"One day I'm going to go into Washington and they're going to put that monument up with all 50,000 names on it," McClure growls. "That's when I'll close the books on Vietnam."