It was 60 years ago that former Marine Thomas J. Clark served his country in the South Pacific islands.
Thomas J. Clark, 84, recently was awarded the Silver Star that he earned 60 years ago during World War II. Clark's wife, Sylvia, says her husband occasionally gets emotional about receiving the honor.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
It wasn't until recently, however, that the Evans resident received an honor he didn't know he had earned.
"A lot of people are going to the PX and buying these things and wearing them if they earned them," said Clark, 84. "I didn't think that was right. So I wrote a letter to the Department of the Navy and asked them what I was entitled to ... I expected maybe a ribbon or two, those little ones."
In April, though, Clark opened his mailbox to find a Silver Star medal that he earned while serving in World War II.
It was several years ago that Clark wrote the letter. Two years later, four service medals arrived in his mailbox - the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars and the Presidential Unit Commendation Medal with a bronze star.
Clark volunteered for the Marine Corps in 1942 and started his military career at the Guadalcanal Campaign on the Solomon Island of the South Pacific. After a few months recuperating in New Zealand and becoming a truck driver for the motor pool, Clark and his unit headed to Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands. Clark said that because the city of Tarawa was taken by U.S. forces in only 72 hours, he never got off the ship before heading to Saipan in the Mariana Islands.
Clark has an idea who might have recommended him for the medals and why, but after writing another letter, the Silver Star arrived in April.
"(Saipan) is the only place I can think of that somebody would turn me in for something like this," Clark said. "The captain sort of took a liking to me. I did follow him into some caves and into a mine field."
While in Saipan in 1944, when Clark was 22, he said he searched mountainous caves for artillery that could be used against American forces.
"On that particular island, the mountains were high and the ocean was way down below," Clark said. "You look way down and they (Japanese military) would dig caves and put their guns in there on a track. They would roll them out and shoot at our Navy and roll them back in."
Clark, who spent 32 months deployed to the South Pacific, said he was surprised by the Silver Star because he never expected it. He said he actually was a little angry because it took the Navy so long to recognize him and others who earned honors and medals.
"Better late than never," Clark said, adding that the Silver Star is pretty. "It makes you feel like they are a little slow, as if they are not as efficient as they should be. There wasn't but about 15 million of us, though. It was a big record to keep."
His wife, Sylvia, said her husband was caught off guard by the Silver Star.
"He gets emotional about it at times," she said. "We were surprised when he got that one."
Before volunteering for the Marines, Clark said, he was a cotton farmer in Tennessee. After four years as a Marine, he used his GI Bill to attend a three-year apprenticeship program learning to pour concrete, which he made a living at in California until his retirement in the late 1980s.
"It was no office job," Clark said, "but they trained me how to build a building. That was something."
Clark retired to the Augusta area in 1988. He said he saw an advertisement in a military service or veterans magazine for veterans to write to see what honors they have earned. Clark said he now wants to urge other vets to do the same.
"They don't take the time," he said. "I thought everybody would know to write to the service that they were in to get the information they wanted ... Maybe this will wake up some of the guys that want to know and they will investigate because they do have your records."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.