It was supposed to be just a simple plan between two old friends to get the other one out from being deployed to Vietnam in the summer of 1966. Never did they know that their plan will lead to one of the most inspiring and unbelievable stories of bravery and sacrifice between two friends. It is also in part a story about draft dodgers and cowardice.
Paul G. Mahar and his friend Frank L. Clouse, Jr.,both grew up in North Newark, New Jersey. They were typical boys that enjoyed youthful scrapes and both loved wrestling. In a wrestling match, Paul Mahar was left with a metal pin in his arm. This metal pin would be decisive for both men later on.
The two friends drifted apart when both of their families moved. In 1965, Mahar tried to join the army. He was rejected because of the metal pin that was in his arm. Mahar worked various jobs and also had a chance to reconnect with Clouse when he attended his friend’s wedding.
In 1966, Clouse was drafted.
“I knew he would eventually come to see me, it was Frank’s way, and the nature of our friendship, and he was still my friend. Frank was usually the one with the ideas, and he usually started to make plans, at least in his mind.” Mahar wrote in 1993 in his short autobiography “Scattered Shots.”
The day Clouse was supposed to be sent to Vietnam; he went to Mahar’s boarding house. He told his friend that he had gone AWOL because he didn’t want to leave his new wife behind. He also told Mahar that he was afraid of the things that might happen to him in Vietnam.
In Mahar’s boarding house, the two friends came up with a simple yet ingenious idea.
Their plan was to have Mahar pose as Clouse. So they altered Clouse’s records to fit Mahar. Mahar would then report to Fort Dix as Clouse saying he has lost his military identification while drawing some attention to the metal pin in his arm; he will then use the metal pin to get a medical discharge.
The first part of their plan went exactly as planned. Mahar was accepted and given a new identification card as Clouse. But to his surprise, the metal pin in his left arm was not enough to get him a medical discharge. So instead of going home, he found himself directed into one of the C-141 planes on the tarmac of McGuire Air Force Base ready to depart for Vietnam. With just a pack of cigarettes that was handed to them before boarding the C-141, Mahar’s 406 days war adventure in Vietnam (with no military training experience) began.
Upon landing in Vietnam, Mahar was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. Mahar knew he had to learn the ropes fast. He read the small handbook that was given to them for the U.S. Forces in Vietnam cover to cover. He also meticulously observed the other soldiers in the field. He then attended the five day orientation course together with the other soldiers that had just arrived in Vietnam. After the course, Mahar was assigned to the Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Regiment, or the “Wolfhounds”. The “Wolfhounds” had been into the most ferocious battles in the Vietnam War.
The platoon in which Mahar belonged to was known as the “Dead Man’s Platoon” because of the high rate of casualties it suffered.
When Mahar’s unit was sent to the enemy infested territory of the Iron Triangle, northeast of Cu Chi, he witnessed firsthand the horrors of war. Soldier after soldier that he knew fell victim to landmines that were planted in the manmade tunnels in the area. Mahar survived because he has proven that he was adept as a tunnel rat. Later on, Mahar wrote in his memoire: “The words are easy enough to remember. ‘The lieutenant wants someone to go down into the tunnel.’ The platoon had plenty of volunteers. I was just one of many. But why did I choose to go? I wondered. My self-imposed new identity wouldn’t accept ignoring the Lt.’s invitation.”
Despite Mahar’s lack of training and experience as a soldier, he performed extremely well. He was promoted to sergeant and did extra time in the field to fast-track his discharge from the tour.
When Mahar’s tour was over, he went home to New Jersey. Here he met his friend and reassumed his true identity.
“We reversed ourselves. In 1966 Frank taught me all he knew about the Army of Fort Dix, New Jersey and Fort Polk, Louisiana. I was now teaching him about the Army of Vietnam in 1967.” Mahar said.
After Mahar and Clouse shifted back to their real identities, both men drifted apart from each other.
In 1981, Mahar wanted to be identified as a soldier who has served and fought for his country. He contacted the media for help. It took more than a decade for his claim just to get noticed.
In 1991 after several media appearances, the Board of Corrections of the Military Records said that it would investigate his claim.
Then on November 24, 1993, after 12 years of waiting, Mahar’s claim was granted. The board decided that Mahar should be given an official military file and an honorable discharge.
Mahar’s claim as a Vietnam War Veteran became official and he was finally confirmed as a true war hero.
In September 21, 2004, Mahar passed away.
A shirtless Mahar, left, in a 1967 photo at Cu Chi.
When Mahar made the decision to assume the identity of his friend, he never imagined that it would lead him to the life he never expected. He had done it as a favor to a friend. It was supposed to get them both out quickly discharged from the military; instead it became an experience Mahar never dreamed of. Even if Mahar and Clouse’s friendship was never the same again after he was discharged from the service, Mahar had found a new group of friends during his time in Vietnam. He may have served as Sgt. Clouse, but to his friends and for everyone else who knew him, he was always Sgt. Paul Mahar.