By Ed Brock
Staff Sgt. Tom Clark and some of his fellow soldiers with the 730th Ordnance Light Maintenance Company at Omaha Beach landed four days after D-Day and wound up temporarily stuck in the sand when their half-ton truck overheated.
That happened with vehicles like that when they had been waterproofed for the short drive through water from the Landing Ship Tank to the shore, said Clark, now soon to turn 86 and living in Fayetteville.
They had nothing to do but wait for the truck to cool off before they could rejoin the rest of their group. Not much progress had been made in the four days since the invasion of Normandy had begun, and the front lines were still mighty close.
"Jerry (the Germans) would fly over once and a while way high and cut loose with a bomb," Clark said. "When they did, every ship out there would fire. A lot of tracers going up. Most beautiful sight you'll see."
But as they stood there watching, and a Military Police officer came by and reminded them of a simple principle of physics. What goes up must come down.
They took shelter under the steel beds of their truck, hearing the "ping, ping" of the storm of spent ammunition.
"That was our first indoctrination," Clark said.
Still, it was better than that first day of the invasion, D-Day itself.
"There's no comparison," Clark said. "Those guys had it rough, I tell you."
Born in Tennessee some 40 miles from Nashville, Clark was driving trucks for a living when the war began and, with it, the draft. Clark actually pulled his number from a fishbowl and, since it was fairly low, he knew he would be drafted soon, anyway.
So he went to the draft board and asked to be sent in the next group available. And on Jan. 9, 1941 they granted his wish.
"I like to tell people I'm a volunteer draftee," Clark said.
It would be four years, eight months and 17 days before he would get out again. While serving with the 730th as part of the 30th Infant Division, Clark was never a front line soldier, though he was often near the front line.
"My job was supply," Clark said.
They pushed through Europe, into Ardennes. In Belgium where they fought The Battle of the Bulge and ended up in Magdeberg, Germany, 50 miles south of Berlin when Victory in Europe Day arrived and the war ended, for Clark at least. He had enough points of service that he was not required to go to the Pacific Theater where the war against the Japanese was already winding down.
He came back to the United States and lived as a civilian for 13 months, then he rejoined the service, this time in the Army Air Corp. He was stationed at the Ordnance Automotive School at what would become Fort Gillem in Forest Park for a while before shipping out to another war, this one in Korea. After that one he was stationed in Japan for a few years with the family he had started after WWII ended, a wife and daughter.
When they returned to the states again he was stationed in Alabama and Georgia and spent so much time at Fort Benning and Fort Gordon that when he retired in 1963 they only returned to Tennessee for three years before moving back to Georgia.
"We knew more people here than in Tennessee," Clark said.
They lived in Riverdale for a while before moving to Fayetteville in 2002, and Clark is still a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3650 in Riverdale.
This weekend, on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, Clark will be at a family reunion in Tennessee. He doesn't expect to be telling many war stories there.