STANHOPE?- When Paul Clark enlisted in the Marines after he graduated from Chariton High School in 1967, the Vietnam war was well underway. Feeling certain that he would be drafted into the service if he didn't enlist, Clark chose to sign up for the Marines. "We were told to go, and we did, but we weren't happy about it," is how Clark puts it these years later.
"If you were drafted, you were a ground pounder, so I enlisted," he said during a visit around the dining room table of his Stanhope home.
"Marines aviation was guaranteed, but I ended up in a 52-ton tank." Clark served as a tank crewman and a tank commander with the Bravo Company, 3rd Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division.
Paul Clark with a scale model of the tank he was assigned to as a Marine in Vietnam.
At the time, the life expectancy of a tank crewman was 15 to 20 days. And, yes, he admits now, he was scared. "There were plenty of times I was glad I was inside one of the tanks, but there were also plenty of times I wished I wasn't so I could run."
When Clark had been in the country for seven or eight months, the tank he was in was hit by the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive while on patrol. Not realizing he was injured, Clark assisted in evacuating other crewman who were seriously injured. It turned out he had been hit by shrapnel, though, and Clark was sent to a hospital and eventually to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. He was transferred back to the Great Lakes Naval Hospital and was discharged in 1970.
"They saved my right arm and my right leg," Clark says of his 18-month hospital stay and treatment for shrapnel and gangrene.
While in Vietnam Clark was exposed to the herbicide agent orange, which has been linked to the lymphoma he was diagnosed with four years ago. He received a Purple Heart for being wounded in the Vietnam conflict.
Clark claims that there is a lot about Vietnam he has forgotten. "So I kicked it out of my mind," he says. Friendships from his time in the service were difficult to form, he said, so that wasn't a benefit. "We looked out for each other and covered each other's backs," he said, "but we never really made friends. As soon as you made a friend, they'd be gone."
Because he was awarded a Purple Heart in Vietnam, Clark was invited to participate in an Honor Flight in August, his first trip to Washington, D.C. There were 108 veterans on the flight, all winners of a Purple Heart, and there were WW II veterans as well as 90 from Viet Nam, according to Clark. Seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was the most impressive part of the trip for the Stanhope man.
It's notable that the retired truck driver is proud of his service but not the war he was in. "I'm glad I went and did my duty," says the decorated veteran now as he considers his time in the service, "even though after we were there for while you could see and tell it was a needless conflict with no gain to be made. Vietnam was a war you wanted to forget."