Monday, May 27, 2013

Those Clark boys, Duane and Beryl

James Duane (left) and Beryl L. Clark

One way to track the state of Lucas County is to look at Chariton High School yearbooks, substantial and hard-bound during the 1920s, 1930 and 1931, still standing strong today on bookshelves. 

In 1932, the embossed cover was replaced with paper and the number of pages quartered, now sewn loosely together. Although the faces imprinted on annual pages continued to be terribly young and terribly hopeful, this Great Depression version of the Charger would continue through World War II.


Four years separated Duane and Beryl Clark, farm boys who came of age during these rough and tumble years of economic collapse, who graduated from Chariton High School during the hardscrabble years of 1933 and 1938, respectively.

Duane, who rarely used his first name --- James --- was born on Feb. 8, 1916, on the home farm in Warren Township to Melvin R. and Mabel D. (Dunshee) Clark; Beryl, apparently always the quieter of the two, arrived on March 7, 1920. The boys had an older sister, Dortha Susan, born during 1913. A baby brother named Paul was born on July 4, 1927, but lived less than 24 hours.

When the children were small, the Clarks moved to a farm in Lincoln Township and were living there when Duane and Beryl entered high school.

It was a tradition at that time for yearbook staffs to come up with one-liners to describe each senior. These  were printed beside senior portraits with a list of high school activities. Duane's portrait in the 1933 Charger is accompanied by the enigmatic, "I am not what I once was."

Like most farm boys, Duane had no time for athletics because of farm chores but  found time for music, both operetta and boys glee club during his junior and senior years.

Five years later, when Beryl's portrait was published in the 1938 Charger, "Silence is the perfectest herald of joy" introduced his list of activities, also dominated by music --- both glee club and mixed chorus.


After high school, the Clark boys' paths diverged.

Duane left home after graduation and moved to Cleveland, where he trained as a structural steel worker and welder at the Lincoln Welding School. He remained in Cleveland, where work was plentiful, until accepting employment with a Seattle-based defense contractor, Seims-Drake Construction Co., as war approached. He was assigned to a project in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Beryl remained close to home, entering a partnership with his father on the home farm. He also developed a considerable interest in religion, transferring his membership from First Presbyterian Church to an outfit called the Gospel Center, then applying successfully for admission to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago,  perhaps planning to become a preacher.


It is likely that both of the Clark boys could have avoided military service for occupational reasons had they chosen to do so. Both farming and defense-related construction where sheltered occupations. But neither did. Both enlisted during February of 1943.

Beryl, inducted on Feb. 4 into a military police unit, completed basic training at Camp Clark, Missouri, then was sent to Africa to work as an Army and prisoner escort. After transfer to the 6th Infantry Division, he was back in the United States during February of 1944 before redeployment to the European theater.

Duane, who enlisted Feb. 23, 1943. had in the meantime earned his pilot wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant on  Feb. 8, 1944, at Camp George Field, Illinois.

On Feb. 16, 1944, during the family's last gathering, Duane was married to Barbara Maxine Sutton of Denver, Colorado, at First Baptist Church in Russell with the Rev. Archie Beals officiating. His siblings, Beryl and Dortha, attended the couple.

Within days, Barbara accompanied Duane to his final training station in Florida and Beryl was deployed to Europe. During June of 1944, Duane was deployed to England, where he was promoted to first lieutenant during October, and Barbara returned to Denver to live with her parents.


During those months in Europe, Duane and Beryl were able to meet once --- for a night together in London before Beryl was deployed to France where he was reassigned again, this time to the 90th Division of Patton's 3rd Army.

On Nov. 9, 1944, Duane, assigned to the 563rd Bombardment Squadron, 388th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force, was co-piloting the B-17G Cicero Kid on its 33rd mission. Taking off from Station 136, Knettishall, England, the targets were the marshalling yards and rail facilities of Saarbrucken, Germany.

Over Foriches, Belgium, an engine caught fire and a simultaneous violent explosion broke the plane into three parts. Seven crewmen parachuted to safety, but co-pilot Clark and pilot John J. Chimenti perished.

Two months later, on 11 January 1945, Beryl was killed in combat in Luxembourg during the Battle of the Bulge.


At that time, U.S. soldiers who died were buried quickly near where they fell. After the war, remains were collected from across European and South Pacific theaters and buried in new American cemeteries. It was in this manner that the remains of Duane and Beryl Clark were reunited at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.

The survivors of those lost to war were, after it ended, offered the opportunity have the bodies of their loved ones returned to them. The Clarks chose to bring the brothers home.

Their remains were shipped together from Antwerp to the United States, arriving during July of 1948.  The sealed metal caskets arrived in Chariton during the early morning of August 24 and were taken from the depot to the funeral home of their aunt, Mrs. Frank Dunshee, at the intersection of North Grand Street and Auburn Avenue.

Funeral services were held there on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 26, and the brothers --- escorted by Chariton's Legionnaires and representatives of the U.S. military --- were taken to the Chariton Cemetery for burial.


In due time, government-issue headstones arrived and were mounted on small slabs of gray granite to mark the graves.

The boys' parents survived into the 1960s and after they had been buried just to the north, a stone was ordered and information about Duane and Beryl was inscribed on its east face, along with the line from John's Gospel, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Their sister, Dortha, had a long life --- outliving two husbands, Virgil Sandahl and Glenn Johnston, before her own death on January 18 of this year, age 100 years and six days. She was this family's sole survivor.


A planter sits between the stones marking the Clark boys' graves, but it has been many years since it was filled for Memorial Day. No one remains to do that. The flag holder at Duane's grave is twisted after one too many collisions with a lawn mower. No one remains to straighten it or acquire a new one.

Nor does anyone remember now who Duane and Beryl Clark were --- or to dream of who they might have become had war not intervened to claim them.

Nor is there a moral to this story that needs to be written or spoken. The story speaks for itself.

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