Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal,
17 Jan 12
What we create with our hands,
what we offer from our spirits
may not end racism or stop injustice,
but it may just help keep our culture human
--Rev. Malcolm Davis
"On May 3, 1945, in the Battle of Okinawa, Japan, six kamikaze planes hit the U.S.S. Aaron Ward, engulfing the ship’s deck in a deadly inferno. As the fire approached an ammunition locker that would have exploded and destroyed the ship, Mr. Clark — who broke his collarbone in the attacks and was the only survivor of a damage control team — grabbed a hose typically operated by several men and doused the flames.
"His actions saved the vessel, but they were not mentioned in the battle report. In the deeply segregated Navy of that time, Mr. Clark was just a servant — a ship’s steward — and it was common practice then for the heroics of blacks in the military to be ignored or discredited ..."
It was by chance Mr. Clark received the medal, as he participated in a living-history project at a local college which was then brought to the attention of his representative, who then asked the Navy to investigate. Rep. Eshoo said, "Racism robbed Carl of recognition," but Ranger would like to add to that explanation.
This month's Purple Heart magazine mentions Bill "Doc" Lynne who, also after 66 years, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for actions in Okinawa. He received the award on 10 Sept 2011, and died five days later. Many of us know men like Lynne who fought through and endured extreme privations and yet never received a personal award beyond the Purple Heart for their selfless acts of bravery.
Surely racism played a part in Clark's failure to receive an award, but that is not the whole story. Personal awards were the exception, not the rule, back then. None of the services saw fit to award the average fighting man with a personal award. In an attempt to right this wrong, in 1964 the Army belatedly awarded the Bronze Star Medal to all WW II recipients of the Combat Infantry Badge. Ironically, the Navy never did the same for their veterans who had earned the Combat Action Ribbon.
I salute Mr. Clark and proudly acclaim his bravery and service, and in fact suggest that the medal awarded is somewhat insulting to the man and every veteran. Surely the Navy could have appropriately awarded a more significant award. The problem of correct recognition seems to remain. It is a small and correct thing to recognize exceptional performance.
In Ranger's opinion, Sailor Clark deserved at least a Silver Star or a Navy Cross for his ship-saving action.