Written by JT Dahill, News Editor
Inside Dripping Springs Hill Country Care, I found myself sitting in the board game area right by the main doors to the building. Sitting just on the other side of the table from me was an incredible man whose generation is rapidly declining. His generation was, and still is, considered the ‘greatest’. His name is Maurice Clark, and he is a WWII veteran.
Today, at 91-years-old, Clark has been through a lot during the course of his life. On his 18th birthday on January 22, 1943, Clark received the news that he had been drafted into the U.S. Army. Clark, who had aspired to be in the U.S. Army Air Force, was instead shipped off to tank school in Kentucky.
“I didn’t have any control over what I was supposed to do,” Clark said. “I was just told what to do.”
Clark, who didn’t want to be the crewmember in the lightly armored and armed M4 Sherman tank, somehow got the phone number of an Army Air Force full bird colonel. He decided to give the number a try.
“I introduced myself on the telephone to him and my predicament,” Clark said. “I was destined to leave soon and head to Europe in the tank corps.”
Clark asked the colonel if there was any way he could help him get into the Air Force. The colonel gave him an honest answer.
“He told me that he didn’t know the answer to that question but that he would try,” Clark said.
A few weeks later as he and some other tank crew were taking a break on their tanks, a man in a different uniform came rolling towards the tankers and asked for a Maurice Clark.
“I told him that he had found one and that there weren’t many of us,” Clark said. “He then told me that I was in the Air Force now.”
After packing his things, Clark was shipped to Wisconsin to a girls’ college that had been closed down and given to the military for training purposes. From there, he and the other trainees began to fly single-engine aircraft. That went on for four months until the day that the trainees were called into one of the auditoriums. That’s when he got word that they were to be taken out of the Air Force.
“They were going to wash us out for the convenience of the government and send us back to our old units. There were 46 of us at that time and within a week, all but me and one other guy were shipped out.”
Clark, hoping for a miracle, had wise words for himself and his peer:
“I told him to keep his mouth shut. The next day he was shipped out and I then told myself to ‘Keep your mouth shut’.”
Clark waited, only moving about to get meals from the mess hall. He would do this for 6 weeks until his orders finally came through.
“My orders were to go on into the Air Force like I had been supposed to do,” Clark said. “I never have learned why I was allowed to stay in but I kind of figured that the full bird colonel had something to do with it.”
Clark was then sent to school in South Dakota where he took navigation training, medical training, and radio-operator training. He would continue to train there for about 3 months from July to October of 1943. After that, he was shipped off to another Air Force base to meet his crew.
“There I learned that my crew and I were to fly in the B-29 Superfortress. I ended up as the radio-operator, medic, and 2nd navigator on this airplane.”
The plane was named Lil’ Butch after the pilot’s newborn son whom he had yet to meet.
“He was kind of a short guy, but he was quite a pilot,” Clark said.
After meeting his crew, they shipped over to the Pacific island of Guam where he was put in the 20th Air Force, 19th Bomb Group, and the 93rd Bomb Squadron.
“Tokyo, which was one of the number one targets to bomb, was around 1,500 miles from our runway,” Clark explained. “It was very dangerous, and we got hit quite a lot.”
In one instance, a Japanese fighter coming head on and firing cannon rounds nearly killed Clark and the rest of his crew. Firing 20mm cannons, a devastating weapon against bombers, a Japanese fighter managed to get one cannon shell into the aircraft. The shell went through the nose of the aircraft, passing multiple crewmembers and Clark. The round didn’t explode until after it had passed Clark. The bad news: Clark sat in front of the bomb bay, the compartment that carried the bombs within the aircraft. The round went past Clark and into the wall right above his head next to the bomb bay where the bombs were armed and ready to drop. That’s when the round exploded.
“All that shrapnel went through that wall and out into the bomb bay where we had 45,000 lbs of bombs,” Clark said. “Thank the Lord that none of them went off, otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.”
The round did give Clark some minor flash burns but no scarring. The round actually did more damage to the navigator right across from him.
“The skin from his face was peeled down about six inches,” Clark said. “His feet were also badly injured, so I began to tend to him and had to cut off his boots.”
Clark and his crew would survive several missions like this one where their crippled aircraft was unable to return to Guam. Clark is still here today because of the small island of Iwo Jima. With the U.S. needing an airfield closer to Japan for crippled aircraft to reach, the U.S. military set its sights on the island. The island was a strategic location, not just because of its proximity to mainland Japan, but also because the Japanese already had three airfields there. Before the island was even taken, Clark and his crew made an emergency landing on an airfield which had only recently been captured.
“We flew right over a portion of the island still controlled by the Japanese,” he said. “We watched the fighting pass below us while taking some small arms fire.”
Clark, who never got the chance to thank those who took part in the fight for the island, said that he is forever indebted to the Marines and sailors who took the island.
“Those Marines have a special place in my heart,” Clark said. “I am here speaking today because of the ultimate sacrifice that those 6,821 men made.”