Bay Area WWII vet who lived to 100 gets overdue honor

E. PALO ALTO (KTVU) -- Friends, family and admirers gathered Friday at St. Francis of Assisi church in East Palo Alto to say goodbye to a 100-year-old U.S. Navy veteran whose bravery during World War II went unacknowledged for decades.

Those who know Carl Clark said the oversight in recognizing his contributions likely stemmed from his race since he was black.

"It bothered him not just for himself but the other men who endured the same treatment," said Karen Clark Collins, his daughter.

Clark served in the U.S. Navy during the war and managed to survive the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other close calls.

For example, in 1945 Clark was working as a steward aboard a Navy destroyer when Japanese Kamikaze planes attacked his ship called the Aaron Ward.

"The plane blew me across the ship," he recalled in a 2010 interview.

Although he suffered a broken collar bone during the attack, he was credited with dragging several sailors to safety. He then extinguished a fire in an ammunition locker, saving more lives in the process.

"He figured he did what he had to do and never considered himself a hero," Collins said.

Clark received no medals for his bravery thanks to a heavily segregated military that honored white crew members while overlooking the accomplishments in many instances of their black counterparts.

Clark's story eventually reached South Bay Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who pushed for greater recognition.

"I knew he had emotional scars from that," Eshoo said. "But he didn't have bitterness."

In 2012, Clark received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for Bravery, 67 years after his involvement in the armed services.

"His life was extraordinary," Eshoo said. "He had such a sense of dignity. You could see it in his face.

"After the award he felt like he got what he deserved," Ehshoo said.

After the war ended, Clark returned to the Bay Area, working as a mail carrier on the Peninsula and helping start the Boys and Girls Club of Menlo Park. His relatives say he continued to inspire people in and out of uniform.

Clark passed away earlier this month at the age of 100. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

By KTVU reporter Rob Roth.