WASHINGTON -- Six years ago, Marine Corps Maj. Megan McClung was in the final month of her second, year-long deployment to Iraq when, while escorting journalists from Newsweek into Ramadi, her Humvee struck a massive improvised explosive device, instantly killing her and two U.S. Army soldiers, Dec. 6, 2006.
McClung was serving as the public affairs officer for the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
She was the first female Marine Corps officer to be killed in Iraq, and the first female graduate of the United States Naval Academy to be killed in action since the school was founded in 1845.
It wasn’t until after she was killed that her parents, Drs. Michael and Re McClung, really began to learn about who their daughter really was – as a woman and a Marine.
“Megan did not let Re and I know that she was planning to attend the Naval Academy,” said Michael. “In retrospect, that was not surprising, as she was a focused and hardworking child early in her life.”
When Michael, a Vietnam veteran and former Marine Corps infantry officer, found out that Megan planned to be an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, he discussed it with her, pointing out that the ‘law of the land did’ not allow women in the infantry. After she finished The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Megan reported back to her parents that she was going to be a public affairs officer.
Michael thought to himself that her choice was wonderful. Public Affairs would reward his daughter with career opportunities when she gets out of the Corps. But that wasn’t Megan’s logic in choosing the specialty.
“Megan said to me, ‘Nope. This way I can go anywhere the infantry does and I don’t have to worry about the law,’” he said.
During her second tour in Iraq, then Capt. McClung was the embed coordinator for I Marine Expeditionary Force. She knew everyone of importance after her first tour and was the go-to person for news stories, said Michael.
She was committed to athletics. Megan organized the first Marine Corps Marathon held outside of the United States. It was also the first marathon of its type held in Iraq.
Megan completed the race second among women – on a foot that was nearly broken.
Shortly after that, Megan was promoted to the rank of major and jumped at the opportunity to be transferred to the U.S. Army’s “Ready First” combat brigade as their public affairs officer.
“She felt that her assignment in Fallujah was too far from the fight and she was running toward the sounds of guns,” Michael said. “The commanding officer, now Brig. Gen. Sean MacFarland, said that Megan had a major impact on the moral of the soldiers and felt that she was the best PAO in Iraq.
“I personally feel that he was understated.”
Since the loss of their daughter, Michael and Re have been devoted to carry on their daughter’s legacy, which revolved around the three things she lived by: mind, body and spirit.
Mind. Scholarships in Megan’s name at three high schools on Whidbey Island, Wash.; Boston University Metropolitan College, Mass.; the Naval Academy; and the Women Marines Association honor the mind.
“When Megan left the Naval Academy, she never thought of herself as a good student and felt she should’ve done better while she was there,” said Re, a retired school administrator. “She wanted to prove to herself that she was as better student and that’s why she went back to school and earned her Master’s degree in criminology.”
Body. While growing up, Megan was an avid gymnast. And she loved running because it was good for the mind and body.
“Megan wanted to recognize even the very last person to finish the marathon,” said Re. “She called us from Iraq and asked me to send a stuffed-toy penguin to give to the last person who finishes. Megan believed it’s not how fast you run – it’s that you finish. She believed that you never leave anyone behind.”
In 2007, the Penguin Award was presented by Michael and Re at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., to the last official finisher. The Penguin Award continues to be an official award of the Marine Corps Marathon.
Megan’s commitment of the body did not stop at athletics. She was also active in the Marine for Life and Wounded Warriors programs.
“I remember Meg saying, ‘Mom, you have no idea how badly wounded some of these folks are coming back from Iraq.’”
In her honor, Michael and Re also organize and sponsor a race on Whidbey Island where all proceeds go to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
Spirit. Megan’s spirit touched the lives of so many. To carry on that spirit, Michael and Re organize an annual Toys for Tots drive which provides more than 1,000 children on Whidbey Island with a toy for Christmas.
“We have really unique opportunities to interact with so many people about Megan,” said Michael. “It takes people a long time to step up with their stories.”
“It’s a very small world and if you wait long enough, the pieces all start to come together – all the stories,” said Re. “One of the nicest things that have been said, these past six years, was said by male Marines – it was that Megan was a Marine's Marine. That's what she would’ve been most proud of.”
As a young girl, Megan collected quotes, Re said. She’d write them on a piece of scrap paper, a napkin or whatever she could find, and then she’d then re-write them in a book.
“As I read them now, I see how Megan’s character developed as she became an adult because of the things she chose to keep with her,” she said. “When she was killed, we got her things back and it was interesting to see, as [her] mom, what was really important to her.
“She always said, ‘If I own it, it’s got to fit in my car because I’m going places.”
Megan’s energy and spirit continues to live on through the people who knew her, served with her and loved her.
“We’ve read dozens of stories sent by people who knew Megan and we have eight little girls and three service dogs running around with her name,” said Re. “She had a gift – a presence. She had the ability to singularly focus with a person or on an event and make that the most importing thing for that period of time.”
Michael was a guest speaker at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Education Center at The Wall Nov. 28. The Education Center will be a new addition to the National Mall, to connect future generations to the lasting impact, the profound insights, and the individual heroes of the Vietnam War.
His message was about the commitments American service members have made, to our country -- to serve at any time, in any location and at any level of sacrifice -- and how their legacy of service must be remembered.
“Megan had written that if she had to die, she wished it would be in a spectacular manner and while on a magnificent adventure,” he said. “She was living that adventure in the Marine Corps.”
“When I was asked once if I would change Megan’s life, I answered I would not change a thing. Megan wanted a life of challenge, service and sacrifice, and I would not deny her that.”