Saturday, January 28, 2012

Honoring Heroes, Carl Clark

On January 18, 2012, Carl Clark was finally recognized for his heroism in World War II.

Carl E. Clark, 95, never dreamed the day would come when he would be formally recognized for his heroism during World War II, let alone by the Navy's top official and in front of half a thousand people.

"This is overwhelming," the soft-spoken 95-year-old Menlo Park resident said after Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pinned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal to his chest during a ceremony Tuesday at Moffett Field.

Clark, an African-American who served at a time when the Navy was segregated, had his reasons to doubt.

The steward first class' efforts to keep the USS Aaron Ward and its men from succumbing to a kamikaze attack were left out of the official battle record because of his skin color, according to U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, who championed the effort to recognize Clark.

"Today, we will add that final entry that has been missing for almost two-thirds of a century," Mabus said Tuesday, referring to the form that members of the military receive when they retire.

The USS Aaron Ward, a destroyer minelayer, was on picket duty near Okinawa on May 3, 1945, when 25 Japanese planes loaded with fuel and bombs swooped out of the clouds with deadly intent.

The impact of the first of six kamikaze pilots to strike the ship threw Clark against the ceiling of a passageway and fractured his collarbone. Despite the injury, he raced to his battle station.

"A broken collarbone could not break Carl's spirit," Eshoo said.

The nearly hourlong fight that followed was brutal, bloody and oddly personal. Clark saw the face of the second kamikaze pilot as he steered his plane into the ship's left flank, Mabus said.

Clark was alone at his station. The opening salvo had killed the rest of his eight-man damage control unit. Undeterred, he picked up a fire hose that usually required several men to operate and went to work.

Throughout the night, Clark put out fire after fire, including a smoldering ammunition locker.
An explosion there would have cracked the ship in half. He also carried many of his fellow crewmates to the aid station.

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