By Jeremy P. Amick
When Forest Clark began working at the former Tweedie Footwear Corporation in Jefferson City, Mo., in December 1941, the United States’ recent involvement in a world war was not of primary concern for a 17-year-old man simply focused on trying to eke out a living in rather challenging economic times.
Regardless of any external concerns, Clark’s life appeared to reach the height of happiness when, on March 7, 1942 (his 18th birthday), he wedded his fiancée, Georgia Phillips.
But the reality of worldly affairs soon took center stage as he began to watch his friends and family drafted into the armed forces, thus securing his decision to embark upon his own military adventure.
“I talked it over with my wife and we thought that it would be best for me to go ahead and enlist,” said Clark, 91, Jefferson City. “I joined with a group of friends and by volunteering to go early (prior to receiving a draft notice),” he added, “I was sent to Europe instead of the Pacific.”
Shortly after receiving his uniform on March 7, 1943—the date of both his first wedding anniversary and 19th birthday—the young recruit traveled to Camp Campbell, Ky., to begin several weeks of basic training.
While in the camp, Clark informed his leadership that although he had never learned to drive a vehicle (nor possessed a driver license), he was interested in learning how to do so. His request was approved and he was soon trained as a military truck driver.
With his training complete in August 1943, the soldier was assigned to the 3638th Quartermaster Truck Company and sent to Camp Patrick, Va., to board a troopship bound for overseas duty.
The trucking company arrived in North Africa in mid-September, where, Clark explained, they spent the largest part of their time in training at a replacement center, awaiting further instructions since “there was not any fighting going on because (General) Patton had already driven Rommel out of (Africa).”
Clark added, “Then they put us on a boat and sent us to Naples (Italy) because at that time the Army was pinned down at Anzio and Cassino,” heavily engaged against both German and Italian forces.
As Allied forces continued their northwestern push toward Rome, Clark’s company supported their movements by providing logistical support, delivering supplies to the front lines including ammunition, fuel, food—“anything they needed, we hauled it,” he said.
Although he had never operated a vehicle prior to the war, Clark jokingly remarked that by the time he left the military, he was driving tractor-trailers.
Even if his duties did not find him engaged in direct combat, the veteran explained that there were frequent dangers associated with their deliveries, such as the occasional attacks coming from enemy aircraft.
“One night I was hauling ammunition in blackout conditions (operating the vehicles with no lights) and when I got to an ammo dump, a German plane started strafing the road I had just come in from with machine gun fire; I watched his tracer rounds hit along the dirt. When his bullets started striking close to where my truck was sitting, he shut off his machine gun, turned his plane around and returned the way he came.”
Pausing, he said, “The Good Lord was looking out for me because I thought that would be my end.”
After he returned home from the war, Clark learned that one of his friends was killed two weeks prior to Germany’s surrender when the vehicle he was driving was machine-gunned by German aircraft.
“We were operating out of Verona when the war in Europe ended” Clark said. “We stayed there for a few weeks after Japan’s surrender and then boarded a troop ship in November (1945) and came home.
The veteran returned to Jefferson City and reunited with his wife, who gave birth to their only son, Dave, a couple of years later. After his discharge, Clark went back to work at Tweedie, remaining with the company until 1962. He then went to work in the communications section for the Jefferson City Police Department (JCPD), retiring in 1983 after 21 years of service.
Following his retirement from the JCPD, he delivered mail with a local contractor for several years, but “retired for good” in 1992.
With a respectable chronicle of participation in one of the deadliest wars in United States’ history, Clark affirms that although he is proud of his military service, he views himself as simply having fulfilled a perceived obligation to the country.
“There are some people who like to brag about their military service, but I’ve never been one to consider myself a hero. The real heroes are people like my nephew (Dale Clark), who never made it back from Vietnam.”
He concluded, “I was just one of a lot of guys that had a job to do and I went over there and got it done.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.