Veteran’s gratitude for new face, new friend

When Veteran Don Clough looks in the mirror, he says he’s now satisfied by what he sees.

That’s after undergoing multiple surgeries over the course of the last seven decades.

The surgeries were required after he suffered serious facial wounds while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Korean War.

War Veteran Don Clough now resides in Wesley Chapel with his wife, Sandy. After being injured in the line of duty during the Korean War, Clough underwent numerous surgeries to reconstruct his face. He’s an active member of a local Marine Corps League. (Courtesy of Don Clough)

Born on the Fourth of July, the Missouri native felt an obligation to serve his country from a young age.

“When I was 10 years old, right after World War II, I saw a movie about the Marines,” Clough recalled. “I decided right then: I wanted to be a Marine.”

And so he did.

A call to duty
Before joining the U.S. Marine Corps at 17, he first got his training a year prior in the Reserve.

“I was very little to be a Marine,” Clough chuckled. “I only weighed 114 pounds.”

His eyes welled with tears as he reminisced the pride he felt while marching at his graduation ceremony, on a breezy day.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the young man had served for almost two years – landing aircrafts in the Fleet Marine Force.

At the start of the conflict, he was deployed to California, then Japan, and finally landed on the shores of South Korea.

Ten days after landing, Clough was on a mission when he got separated from his platoon and was met by enemy gunfire.

He found refuge in a foxhole, but the attack had taken out six of his teeth and tore away his upper gum, upper lip, his nose, and the left side of his face.

Only a dozen members of his platoon survived.

After he was rescued, he underwent treatment for months in Japan before being transferred to California.

After that, he had more than 40 surgeries.

He underwent operations at numerous U.S. Veteran Affairs hospitals — in Illinois, Missouri and Florida.

During plastic surgeries, physicians placed skin grafts on his face taken from his body.

Efforts were made to reconstruct his face, but he felt dismayed by his appearance.

“I looked terrible when I got out,” Clough said. “I had holes in my nose. I was ashamed to even go out to restaurants.”

However, he did not allow this to deter him from seeking higher education and a career for himself.

Returning to civilian life
Using help from the G.I. bill and disability benefits, the former Marine went on to major in accounting at Missouri State University, then received a law degree at University of Missouri.

Clough obtained his law degree in 1959 and began working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, then as a contract negotiator at the U.S. Department of Defense.

A young Don Clough poses in his uniform, as a U.S. Marine. He would soon put his life on the line fighting in the Korean War.

After a decade in government, he transitioned into his own law practice — following his grandfather’s footsteps, who also had been a lawyer.

“I always figured I’d be a tax lawyer,” Clough said, “but I ended up being a criminal lawyer – which I enjoyed.”

Back in Missouri, he served not only as a prosecuting attorney, but as a judge as well.

In 1994, he retired to Florida, where he continued to undergo plastic surgery.

It wasn’t until 2018, though, that his spirits would be lifted by two procedures under the hand of Dr. William Carter.

A new face of gratitude
At the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Dr. Carter performed what Clough said was exemplary work – even giving him a new chin.

The veteran even implored U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida to honor the doctor for his craft.

In a letter of gratitude to the Tampa VA hospital, Clough stated: “Dr. Carter is a modest man, and will tell you he is only doing the job he is paid to do. But, I tell you this, after undergoing 43 plastic surgery operations by different surgeons, in the last 66 years, Dr. Carter is one in a million. A man to be proud of. A man proud to serve those who served.”

The Wesley Chapel man, who spends time with Sandy, his wife of 47 years, said he often hears expressions of gratitude for his service to the country.

Clough has the same sense of appreciation for the doctor — who through the use of his surgical skills — gave him part of his life back.

Published August 28, 2019

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