Martinsburg VA Medical Center
107-year-old Veteran's Story
Charles P. Clark, a 107-year-old World War II (WWII) Veteran has been living at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center (VAMC) Community Living Center since November and has pretty much seen it all.
Living WWII Veterans experienced the most widespread war in the nation’s history and are among the steadily declining Veteran population in the world. WWII African-American Veterans fought a global war when segregation was still among the ranks in the United States.
Clark was born in August 1907 in Hamilton, Virginia. He is one of seven children of a sharecropper and a housemaid. At 32-years-old, Clark was drafted into the U.S. Army, and on December 12, 1944, he was called to serve in WWII after graduating from basic training in Fort Lee, Virginia.
“When I left, I was on a big ship with about 5,000 men of different cultures and backgrounds,” said Clark. “There were 53 ships in the convoy and we landed in Liverpool, England, at about quarter to seven in the evening. It was a month after D-Day.”
Clark’s unit was the 3238 Quartermaster Service Company, an all-black unit of the 9th Armored Division. Clark and his unit were part of the over 2.5 million African-American men registered for the draft during WWII and among the 125,000 African-American men who served overseas during WWII. The unit delivered, supported and served food to the troops, but was not allowed to fight upfront in combat.
“My main duty was kitchen patrol,” said Clark. “I furnished food to the men and guarded food and supplies when we traveled on convoys. “I remember one time we got a little too close to the front while we were serving food, and a Colonel came over and told us to get back; they didn’t allow us to serve up front.”
Clark’s commanding officer and two lieutenants were white, but his first sergeant and the rest of his unit were black. Clark said that he wasn’t mistreated while serving in WWII and most people were nice to him. “It didn’t bother me too much,” said Clark. “My commander was a nice guy; he was from Baltimore, Maryland and his brother was captured by the Germans before we even got there. We were all there fighting the war.”
Clark provided food service support in England, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland under the most hostile conditions. One night he thought he was going to fight because he could hear the Germans getting closer. “I was on guard duty one night and I told my buddy that we’re going to fight tonight because I felt the Germans were right on us,” said Clark. “My commander told us to get ready, but we never did.”
Clark served 22 months during WWII and returned to Purcellville, Virginia after his military discharge. Once home, Clark worked on an apple orchard, became a neighborhood barber and drove a county school bus for 25 years.
On March 16, 2015, the Martinsburg VAMC director presented Clark with a Certificate of Appreciation and a coin for his military service and contributions during WWII.
“Mr. Clark’s service and contributions during the world’s largest conflict are nothing less than extraordinary,” said Timothy Cooke, medical center director. “Just like so many other men and women, he served our country with great honor and distinction and it’s a privilege to have him at our medical center.”
Clark’s daughter-in-law, Della Clark attended the presentation. “I believe Pop’s longevity secret is that he never gets angry and he loves to graze all day long,” said Clark. “I've known him since 1964 and have never seen him raise his voice nor get upset.”
According to the VA’s population analysis and statistics, by 2038, WWII Veterans will be no longer available to share their story. Roughly 16 million Americans served during WWII and a little over a million WWII Veterans are still living.
“It is important that we thank and listen to the stories of all men and women, especially those who served during World War II while they are alive, because soon we will only hear their story in our history books,” said Cooke. “Preserving their history is up to all of us.”
Clark said he believes his service in WWII helped him to become a better man. When Clark was asked his secret to living a long life he smiled and simply said, “Eat good food and not a lot of junk food.”