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WWII vet, son share trip to memorial

Staff writer

Virgil Clark of rural Burns and several other World War II veterans from Kansas were listening to a presentation by their group leader at the National World War II Memorial in June when a crowd of random passers-by started listening.

When the presentation was done, members of the crowd spontaneously lined up to thank, hug, and shake hands with the veterans.

“It was really cool to see groups of teenagers, especially, talk to the veterans,” said his son, Charlie, who accompanied him to Washington, D.C.

Clark said three observers stood out to him. There was a woman, probably in her mid-20s, who had tears streaming down her face and was so choked up she couldn’t speak. Three Boy Scouts spent a lot of time talking with the veterans. And there was a father with two young boys who said it was the neatest thing they had seen on their trip.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Clark said.

Navy service

He joined the Navy in 1944 and was discharged in 1946.

“I enlisted right out of high school,” Clark said. “I was still 17.”

He was originally assigned to be a firefighter on a troop transport, but he finished his time in the Navy as a diesel engineer on a landing craft. Clark served in the Pacific theater of the war.

“I never did keep a complete list of where I went,” he said.

Among the places he went were Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. He wasn’t at Iwo Jima for the initial landing, but combat was still ongoing when he arrived.

Clark said he didn’t remember where he was when he heard the U.S. had dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, but he was glad President Harry Truman made the decision. He said he understands the controversy, but dropping atomic bombs on Japan saved many American lives.

Clark didn’t talk much about his time in the Navy with his children while they were growing up. He was too busy working to support the family.

“I learned more about his service when he was talking to my sons,” Charlie said.

The trip

The Clarks went to Washington, D.C., as part of the group, Central Prairie Honor Flights. The organization’s purpose is to help as many World War II veterans as possible see Washington, D.C., and the National World War II Memorial.

They flew June 20 from Kansas City, Mo., to Baltimore, Md. The group stayed in Washington, D.C., for two nights.

The real destination for the journey was the National World War II Memorial, where they had a prayer vigil.

During their stay, they also visited several other landmarks. They saw the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and participated in the evening laying of the wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier.

“That is really awe-inspiring,” Clark said.

They spent a lot of time at the National Mall, visiting the National Air and Space Museum, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and U.S. Holocaust Museum.

The group was wonderfully received by current Marines at the Marine Corps War Memorial — also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

The veterans were surprised the last night of the trip, when they had mail call. Central Prairie Honor Flights collected letters from the veterans’ family and friends, as well as random well-wishers.

“I will never forget,” Clark said.

Charlie said he was grateful he was able to go on the journey and share the experience with his father, to see the joy and pride on his face.

“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s an opportunity many people have already missed.”

The U.S. is losing about 1,200 World War II veterans every day, Charlie said. For more information about Central Prairie Honor Flights, visit http://www.centralprairiehonorflights.org.

Last modified July 6, 2011

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