Korea and the Cuban Missile Crisis highlight the career of an Air Force veteran | Local News
Today’s Veteran: Tommy Clark, 81
Service: Air Force, 4 years
Recognitions: National Defense Service Medal; Good Conduct Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Ribbon; Korean Service Ribbon; Air Force Medal of Honor. United Nations Korean Service Medal; Small Arms Expert Ribbon
Duty Stations: South Korea; Warner Robins Air Force Base; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas
His Story: Tommy Clark chose the Air Force over other military branches because he believed there were more opportunities to advance his education.
He enlisted with the idea that he might eventually be trained to fly helicopters. But aptitude tests showed he was best suited as an air marshal, providing security for bombers and fighter jets at bases around the world.
After completing basic training, followed by 12 weeks of law enforcement and security training, Clark was sent to his first duty station in South Korea, where skirmishes were still ongoing between the North and South Korean troops.
“It was so poor,” he said. “It was a rude awakening. It was a sobering experience.”
While serving there, a coup by the South Korean military created tense moments of uncertainty for American troops.
“We supported the South Korean government,” he said. “We remained on alert.
One of the toughest jobs in South Korea was patrolling the base and keeping the plane safe during the winter.
“The coldest day of my life was 23 degrees below zero,” he said. “We had to keep everything.”
If it was that cold, Clark said he and the other guards were limited to 15 minutes outside. Finally, Clark said his commanding officer decided it was too cold to even go out for that long.
“He said the weather would be the security of the base,” he said. “We liked that.”
During his free time in Korea, Clark said he mostly stayed playing cards, going to movies, and taking classes.
The other thing that occupied his free time was writing letters to his wife, whom he married at the end of his 13-month deployment in Korea. They celebrated their 60th anniversary on Friday.
“We learned how to budget an airman’s salary quickly,” Clark said.
The flight home from South Korea was the most tense moment of Clark’s military career when the plane his unit was flying in was struck by lightning over the Sea of Japan.
The aircraft lost all interior lighting and had to rely on emergency power for the next two and a half hours. The pilot was not very reassuring when he told the crew that the plane would “probably” return.
When the plane approached the runway in Japan, Clark said he knew the situation was serious due to the number of emergency vehicles lining the runway. Fortunately, the plane landed safely.
“There was not an atheist on board,” he said.
He spent the remaining two and a half years at Warner Robins Air Force Base providing security for B-52 bombers and other aircraft.
He came back just in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis. His unit was sent to a base in Maine for 90 days as the crisis escalated before its end.
He said pilots slept in their planes and were ready to take off within 15 minutes of a cold start. He said commanders were candid in staff meetings about the tense situation unfolding.
“At that young age, it was a sobering thought that this could be something you never dreamed of,” he said.
Clark said his military experience impacted his life in ways that cannot be measured.
“The army gave me a sense of responsibility,” he said.
Clark then served for eight years on the Glynn County Board of Commissioners and is currently a member of the Glynn County Board of Elections, where he served for five years.
He was also honored on a recent honor flight to Washington.
“We deeply thank this community,” he said. “It was a real humbling moment.”