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.