Veteran recalls coming home
VALLEY — Our Valley Times-News Veteran of the Week, Gene Clark, is glad to have seen a change in the way veterans are treated since he returned home from Vietnam in the 1960s.
“When I left Vietnam, I was flown to Oakland, California, to be processed out,” he said. “We were told that we’d be better off if we didn’t wear our uniforms in public. They told us there had been some instances where snipers had been shooting at soldiers.
“There were no parades for us when we came back,” he added. “But I think that attitudes have changed over the years.”
Clark said he’s gratified to have such holidays as Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
“It’s good to recognize those who served our country,” he said. “For so long, those of us who served in Vietnam were shown no appreciation for serving.”
Clark grew up in the hills of southwest Virginia. He was born on the top of Buckhorn Mountain in Bland County. The doctor who delivered him got there on horseback. “I always looked up to guys who had served in the military,” he said. “My dad served in World War II and was wounded. I joined the U.S. Army when I was 18. That was in 1960. Serving in the military was a good experience for me.”
Clark took basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas. He was then sent to Korea for 14 months. “It was supposed to be for one year but it was extended due to a crisis that was going on in Berlin,” he said.
From there, he went to Fort Benning. That began a local connection. He met a young woman from the Valley named Ann Hammock. They were married in 1964.
They now have three children, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Two of their daughters love the country life; Cherie Hull lives in Standing Rock and Kelli Atkins in Fredonia. Their son, Richard Clark, lives in Valley.
“I got to see places in the Army,” Clark said. “I went to Germany twice and to Vietnam. I was there two days after Christmas in 1965. I was home for Thanksgiving in 1966.”
Clark was a squad leader for the First Cavalry Division, which was stationed near An Khe, north of Saigon.
“Most of my time there we were out in the field,” he said. “There were 11 men in the squad, and I was responsible for them.”
Many people in the Valley know Clark for his many years in the local automobile business.
“I sold cars for 38 years,” he said. “I retired from the Langdale Motor Company.”
Clark is an active member of American Legion Post 67 and supports its efforts to assist fellow veterans. He said that he appreciates the local Post’s hosting of Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day programs.
The Legion has plans to host a Memorial Day program at 11 a.m. on Monday. With good weather it will be at Veterans’ Park in Valley. In the event of rain it will be indoors at Valley Community Center.