Controversial World War Two General Mark Clark of South Carolina

800px-Luccaitaly1944

 This African-American combat patrol advanced three miles north of Lucca (furthermost point occupied by American troops) to contact an enemy machine gun nest. Here a bazooka-man cuts loose at the target some 300 yards distant. These American soldiers of the US 5th Army were under the command of General Mark Clark. 09/07/1944 (Photo courtesy of the US National Archives and in the public domain)

 

 

Mark_Wayne_Clark_1943

  US Army General Mark Wayne Clark in 1943.

Among his many decorations is the Purple Heart he received for being seriously wounded in World War One while leading a company of soldiers in battle and the Bronze Star for bravery under enemy fire.

(photo courtesy of US Library of Congress)

General Clark (1896 to 1984) remains a controversial figure in the literature of World War Two. His detractors say he disobeyed orders and allowed tens of thousands of German soldiers to escape because he was so focused on becoming known in history as “the general who liberated Rome,” which he did.

His defenders say his critics are carping, ill-informed, nit-picking dimwits. They point out he was a protegé of Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshal and that many, including General Eisenhower, thought General Clark one of the most brilliant Allied generals of World War Two. Clark was the youngest three-star general in the US Army in World War Two. Suffice it to say, this controversy will continue.

While he was baptized an Episcopalian while a cadet at West Point, his mother was Jewish, hence making Clark Jewish under Rabbinical Law. This would make him one of the few Jewish (by descent) generals in the history of the US. (Source: historian Rick Atkinson).  I mention this because anti-Semitism was very strong in that era and especially in the military and I think it is important for Americans to know there were people of many ethnic groups who contributed to victory in World War Two.

SGuards

The Summerall Guards. These young men, all of whom are seniors, comprise the elite silent drill platoon of the Citadel.

From 1954 to 1965, General Clark became the Commandant of the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina in Charleston, SC, the city where he subsequently lived after retiring as Commandant of the Citadel. In 1968, while attending the Citadel summer camp, I actually met him.

He walked around the campus from time to time.  He was  well-known to everyone and was an awe-inspiring figure. I recall that he was dressed in the white summer uniform of the US Army which isn’t something one sees very often. He came over to a group of us campers and our counselor, who was a Citadel cadet, came to attention while General Clark shook our hands.

The Citadel summer camp was a good recruiting ground for future Citadel cadets as well as young men interested in joining the military. My mother sent me to this month-long camp thinking it would be fun–it was–and might interest me in a military career. It didn’t.

The lead counselor in our section was from Thailand. This being the height of the Vietnam War,  he would jog with us to breakfast each morning leading us in the following chant, “I want to be an airborne ranger, I want to kill a Vietcong.” In retrospect, since we campers were all eleven or twelve years old, I find this odd but it wasn’t in the context of the times.

Published by

Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

Leave a Reply