Many Macomb County veterans regaled the audience with colorful tales of their days in uniform, while others kept their incredible stories to themselves.
One of those heroes is Gary Allen Clements, 79, of Warren, who died on February 10.
“My dad was a Navy veteran,” said Gary’s son, Andew Clements, who planned to share a few words about his dad during Thursday’s funeral and final interment at Great Lakes National Cemetery on Friday.
“During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he served at the Naval Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) in Suitland, Maryland,” Andrew said. “His job was to drive to the spy planes on the tarmac, take delivery of the film canisters, transport them under armed surveillance, have them developed and take a first look. ”
Much of what he saw was aerial footage of military installations.
However, one day he was reviewing the films and spotted what looked like nuclear missiles in Cuba.
“He brought this to the attention of the civilian Navy photo interpretation expert he was working with,” said Andrew, who works as a research electrical engineer for DEVCOM’s Ground Vehicle Systems Center in Warren. “Dad said he turned white when he saw the movies and said, ‘Go get the captain.’ Dad replied, ‘The captain is in a meeting.’ The expert said, ‘Get him out of this meeting now!’ And the rest is history.”
After confirming that they were in fact missiles, Gary spent the next two weeks compiling more evidence from the pilots, taking a first look, and delivering it to the Pentagon war room.
“Dad was the only non-commissioned officer with access to the war room,” Andrew said.
“He has a great story about being chased down the highway by the police for speeding up and up the steps with the film canister, telling a warrant officer along the way to get rid of the cops,” Andrew said.
After all, it was a matter of national security.
“During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a 13-day political and military standoff in October 1962 over the installation of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the American coast. In a televised address on October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy informed the Americans of the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to declare a naval blockade around Cuba, and made it clear that the United States was ready to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to national security,” according to a report by History.com. “Following this news, many people feared that the world was on the brink of nuclear war. However, disaster was averted when the United States accepted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s offer to withdraw Cuban missiles in exchange for a US promise not to invade Cuba. Kennedy also secretly agreed to withdraw US missiles from Turkey.
NPIC department heads were praised for their discovery, but it was Andrew’s father who received a commendation from Kennedy for his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Years later, Americans became even more aware of the importance of photographic interpretation when Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the United Nations (UN) Security Council, showing them photographic images of the NPIC proving that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. in defiance of international prohibitions.
As unbelievable as it may seem – his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis – was just one of many life experiences that unfolded as a Forrest Gump sequel:
- After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Navy gave it its pick of missions. He chose Atsugi Naval Air Base in Japan, where he flew from the back of spy planes, operating electronic warfare equipment used to determine enemy radar installations.
- During his tour in Japan, he decided to learn karate and in 9 months, he obtained his first degree black belt. His teacher was a famous Kancho Sensei karate master, Eizo Onishi.
- He was known for making a good impression on JFK and once used him to place an order at a Jack in the Box. The manager understood, but his servers were so convinced that the president ordered a burger and fries that he gave him the food for free.
- In 1964, when the Olympics were held in Tokyo and the karate masters could not incorporate karate into the games, Japan hosted the first Japanese Koei-Kan Championship. Gary was among the black belts invited to compete and took third place. At the end of his tour, Master Sensei of Koei-Kan took Gary home as a home disciple (Uchi Deshi), which was a great honor.
- He then taught the Koei-Kan style to Detroit students, appeared on the Lou Gordon Show as a karate demonstrator, and later opened his own dojo.
- In 1972, his award-winning student won first place in the same Japanese Karate Championship he entered in 1964.
- He had a long career as a computer programmer and analyst for Chrysler and was known to work all night long on debugging programs so people got their paychecks on time.
- Before enlisting at 18, he played baseball and was good enough to earn a tryout with the Detroit Tigers. However, his father was not enthusiastic about making professional sports a career. Still, he tried to sneak out to witness the test by pushing his car out of the driveway and onto the street. Only it won’t start. That’s when his dad came out of the house holding the car’s dispenser cap saying, “You looking for that?”
“Years later, my grandfather apologized for denying my father this opportunity,” Andrew said. “We’ll never know if he would have made the cut, but I can attest he had a rocket arm and playing wrestling with him really piqued me.”
Gary was also a man of faith and deep convictions, concerned about his country and the world.
“He was a very loving father and we couldn’t be more proud of him,” said Andrew, speaking on behalf of himself and his sister, Catherine Ann Clements.