SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A black Navy veteran credited with saving the lives of some of his shipmates during a World War II battle will be getting a long-awaited medal for his heroism, a Northern California congresswoman said.
Carl Clark, 95, will be awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with the Combat Distinguished Device on Jan. 17, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo announced Thursday.
Clark was serving as an E-6 Steward First Class aboard the USS Aaron Ward when Japanese kamikazes attacked the destroyer near Okinawa in May 1945.
"They would guide those planes directly into the ships," Clark said of the planes he described as "flying bombs."
Six kamikazes hit the destroyer, with the blast from one plane so powerful that Clark said it blew him "all the way across the ship."
Though he suffered a broken collarbone in the attack, Clark was credited with saving the lives of several men by dragging them to safety. He also put out a fire in an ammunition locker that, according to Eshoo's office, would have cracked the destroyer in half.
Reached at his home in Menlo Park on Christmas Eve, Clark told The Associated Press that even though the destroyer's captain acknowledged that he had saved the ship, it took 66 years to be recognized for his actions, according to Clark, because of "bigotry."
"It wouldn't look good to say one black man saved the ship," he said.
The captain of the destroyer tried to make up for the slight by giving him extra leave and making sure that he was not sent back to sea, Clark said.
The work in eventually getting him the medal was made more difficult because of the lack of documentation and living witnesses to the attack, Eshoo said, adding that the decision to award the medal was a "Christmas Miracle."
"It is a singular privilege to be in a position to correct the record for those who have fought to preserve our freedoms," she said in a statement.
"Carl Clark served our nation during a time when the Navy was deeply segregated and a culture of racism was prevalent. His courage stands as a symbol of the greatness of our nation, and this award, also given to Senator John McCain, calls out Mr. Clark as a true American hero."
Clark will receive the medal during a ceremony at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif.