Brent Allen McClellan was just beginning his adult life when his country called. Three years after graduating from Jefferson Morgan High School, the then-21-year old was drafted into the army.
In December 1965, McClellan was sent to Vietnam and assigned to 1st Platoon, B Company, 5th Cavalry in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division. A little more than two months later, he was killed in an ambush in Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam, on Feb. 29, 1966.
To honor his memory, a special memorial bridge dedication ceremony took place Friday, May 24 at State Route 1011 (Castile Run Road) between Jefferson Township and Clarksville Borough. In attendance were McClellan’s family and local and state officials, including State Rep. Pam Snyder, who introduced House Bill 952 to honor the fallen soldier, naming the bridge in his memory.
“Army Pvt. Brent McClellan gave his life on behalf of his country more than 51 years ago, and this tribute is long overdue,” said Snyder, who recalled how news of his death reverberated through the community. “Naming the bridge over state Route 1011 will remind all of us of the sacrifice made on our behalf.”
Now known as the Private First Class Brent A. McClellan Memorial Bridge, the structure was recently reconstructed. After the ceremony, Joe Szczur, PennDOT District 12 executive, said the project that cost approximately $2.5 million is part of the state’s Bridge Replacement Project. The bridge is one of 83 bridges selected for replacement in the Greene, Washington, Fayette and Westmoreland County area and one of 550 statewide.
“McClellan is a true hero in every sense of the word, giving his life and making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” Snyder said. “As we travel this bridge, let it serve as a reminder of his bravery, dedication and service to all that we hold dear.”
Jason Dinkun, Clarksville Borough president was one of the county officials in attendance.
“It was nice to see such great outpouring of support from the community,” he said of the audience that approached approximately 100. “ I want to thank the Clarksville Fire Department for supplying us with the chairs needed for the event.”
Prior to its reopening, the memorial bridge had been closed for reconstruction for close to five months. Szczur said PennDOT is just now putting the finishing touches on the bridge, which should be completed in the next two weeks.
McClellan’s sister, Pam Swan also addressed the audience at the ceremony and fondly remembered her brother. She recalled that he lettered in football, baseball and track, was an escort in the annual May Day program at the high school four years in a row and had an entire page devoted to him in the high school yearbook.
“Brent loved camping and fishing on Ten Mile Creek,” she said. “In grade school, he’d often take his tent and fishing pole and spend a couple days camping along Ten Mile. He loved life, his girlfriend, Lanelle Ferrarie, and his purple Chevy Super Sport.”
Swan said, while in the service, McClellen was selected to serve in the honor guard at Fort Myers,Virginia, and was chosen to stand by the grave of President John F. Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery.
Sadly, she recalled the day when she got word of her brother’s death.
“I was living in Ohio at the time and on February 29, leap year, two men from the Army came to my parents’ home in Clarksville and told them of his death.” she said. “Brent was on his last day of maneuvers and headed for R and R the next day when he was ambushed and shot in the head, shoulder and heart.”
On the day she got a phone call to inform her that she’d lost her brother, Swan said she received a letter from him, which she’s kept to this day along with others he sent to their mother that are now tied by a blue ribbon.
“When I got that call, I knew immediately what it was, and just couldn’t handle it, so handed the phone over to my husband,” she said.
After his body returned home, McClellan was buried in Beallsville Cemetery with full military honors. For his service, he received the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Driving all the way up from Belcamp, Maryland, 30 miles from Baltimore, to attend the dedication ceremony, Mary Kay Turner said she attended the high school prom with McClellan as a freshman.
“He wrote to me from Vietnam and, when I found out about today’s event from friends on Facebook, I just had to come up for the ceremony,” she said.
In addition to state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Beaver/Greene/Washington, Greene County Commissioners Blair Zimmerman and Dave Coder (commissioner Archie Trader was absent due to illness), the Fredericktown American Legion and Pastor Carl Liepold, who provided the invocation, those in attendance included two grandnieces: Jordan Simmons, a sergeant in the Army Reserve, and Rachel Greenlee.
“It was such an honor to be at the bridge dedication ceremony today,” Coder said. “It was so nice to see such an outpouring of love and affection for Brent. I will remember him every time I cross that bridge.”
After the ceremony, George Riecks of Clarksville, who was three years ahead of McClellen in school, said he last saw him at Les And Al’s Bar in Clarksville just before he left for war.
“Two months later, he was killed in Vietnam,” he said.
At the close of her remarks to the audience, Swan recounted one episode about her brother at the time when he was being selected for the honor guard.
“When it came time to qualify, Brent found out he was slightly underweight,” she said. “Fortunately one of his friends lent him a roll of quarters which put him over the minimum. Just before he headed off to Vietnam, he told us that he may not be a flag-waving hero, but neither was he a coward.”
“Because of this bridge, my precious brother will never be forgotten. Now, he will always be a hero. But let’s not forget the 58,220 others who died in Vietnam.”