War hero Carl Clark dies at 100 | News | Almanac Online |


War hero Carl Clark dies at 100

Funeral services set for Friday, March 31, for veteran credited with saving his ship after kamikaze attack

An expanded version of an earlier story.

Carl Clark of Menlo Park, who for 66 years was denied official recognition as a World War II hero because of the color of his skin and was finally awarded a medal in 2012, died on March 16. Mr. Clark celebrated his 100 birthday last July.

His daughter, Karen Collins, said her father's health had been in decline since he took a fall in December. But "he was an old fighter" and wouldn't go to the hospital for some time after the fall, she said. He died at the VA hospital.

In January 2012 at a ceremony at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Mr. Clark was presented the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with the Combat Distinguishing Device by then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who acknowledged that the medal was a "long, long overdue recognition" of Mr. Clark's heroism aboard the USS Aaron Ward in 1945, when the ship was hit by six kamikaze planes.

Secretary Mabus spoke during the ceremony of the military's record of racism that prevented African Americans like Mr. Clark from being honored for valor -- those who "risked their lives for their nation," fighting for American ideals and the promise of justice that the country hadn't fulfilled for them.

On the Aaron Ward, Mr. Clark headed an eight-man damage-control unit designated to put out fires and take on other urgent roles if the ship were attacked. On May 3, 1945, Mr. Clark's ship was hit by the Japanese planes; he was credited by his commanding officer for saving the ship, single-handedly putting out the many fires threatening to sink it. He also was credited for rescuing injured shipmates, carrying them to the infirmary for urgent medical care even though he was badly injured himself.

Mr. Clark's actions that long-ago day and into the night "played an undeniably significant role" in saving the ship and the lives of countless sailors, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, said during the awards event.

It was Rep. Eshoo who worked for two years to secure official military recognition for Mr. Clark after being informed of his heroism by Sheila Dunec, a writing instructor who met Mr. Clark when he took a class she offered for those wanting to write about their World War II experiences.

On Monday, Rep. Eshoo praised Mr. Clark for his valor and his "inner refinement." "He could have become a very bitter person, but he didn't," she said. Instead, she said, he recognized the stain of racism that was embedded in the national culture, but chose to live bravely and decently despite it.

When she took on the effort to see that Mr. Clark was finally recognized for his heroism, Rep. Eshoo knew it would be difficult because many of the Navy's records of that period had been destroyed in a warehouse fire, and all but two men who served with him and could testify about his actions were dead, she said. "But I was hellbent to make sure he was honored," she said, calling him "an extraordinary man a true American hero." Although Mr. Clark "more than earned" a hero's medal, she said, "he wasn't recognized because he was black."

One of the two survivors was living in a nursing home in Washington state, she said, "and we got someone to go there and ask him the questions" about what had happened aboard the Aaron Ward. That interview became the foundation of the record that was re-established in support of Mr. Clark's recognition, she added.

Sheila Dunec, the writing teacher who first contacted Rep. Eshoo, shepherded a video project involving Mr. Clark and other writers in the World War II class. She remained close to the veteran even after the writing and video projects, attending his 100th birthday party in the backyard of his home. "It's hard for us to lose our hero. There aren't nearly enough of them around these days and certainly there was only one Carl!" she said.

The video of Mr. Clark telling his story can be viewed here.

Last December, before his fall, Mr. Clark traveled to Hawaii with fellow veterans to ride in a parade and attend a ceremony acknowledging the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Clark was at Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7 attack.

"He said that was the best time he had ever," Ms. Collins said of the recent trip, during which "he was treated like royalty."

Funeral services for Mr. Clark will begin at 11 a.m. Friday, March 31, at St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto; it will be followed by a reception. There will be a quiet hour at the church at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 30.

Ms. Collins is Mr. Clark's only surviving child. A son, Karl Clark, died in 2008. He is also survived by a sister, Korea Strowder of Washington, D.C., and many nieces and nephews.

Click here for the Almanac's story about the January 2012 awards ceremony.

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12 people like this
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 17, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Carl Clark was a great man, who made heroic sacrifices for our country. He was truly deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor but was denied it because of the color of his skin. Menlo Park has suffered a great loss.

7 people like this
Posted by MD
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Mar 17, 2017 at 2:41 pm

What a great man. Fantastic story of heroism. Very sorry to learn that he was not properly recognized for his service, but glad it was eventually (partially) rectified. Great photograph as well. Love to see these stories about seemingly "ordinary" Americans serving, getting it done, sacrificing and ultimately doing extraordinary things. Godspeed.

10 people like this
Posted by gordyvon
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Bless his good and brave heart. His actions bespoke the content of his character long before it was finally recognized. Condolences to Karen Collins from a former Menlo Park resident who salutes her Dad.

5 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 17, 2017 at 4:49 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

RIP Carl, you are a hero for all your actions.

6 people like this
Posted by Rose Bickerstaff
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 18, 2017 at 7:22 am

Mr. Clark is not only a hero, but was a beautiful gentleman and loving
human being. He served in World War 11, fighting for this country, not
thinking about the color of anyone's skin that he was protecting.
Wouldn't it be great if we all could think about that in our every day
lives, instead of practicing racism. Mr. Clark, along with many of his
fellow soldiers suffered mighty!! Sorry Mr. Clark for the abuse you
and others endured not only the war, but the experience of racism while
fighting the War.!!

2 people like this
Posted by M. Lynett USN-Ret
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2017 at 8:35 am

Shipmate you stand relieved….we have the watch. Ring the Ship’s Bell: Chief Clark Departing

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