Born near Watertown, New York, in 1896, to an army man who was Protestant, and his wife who was Jewish, Mark Wayne Clark was eleven years younger than his eventual rival, George Patton. While not poor, the Clarks were by no means as wealthy as the Pattons.
Mark’s parents had differences in religion, but they were not pronounced, as neither parent was deeply involved in a religious life. Mark made his own choices. In later years, he had himself baptized into the Episcopalian church.
As a boy, Mark Clark was tall and thin and sometimes sickly. This tendency to illness followed him all his life.
As Mark grew up he had the opportunity to meet several military people who would play a part in his later life. Douglas McArthur dated his sister Janet for a while. And when still a boy, Mark met and admired a young officer named George Patton.
Clark went to a special prep school to prepare himself for West Point. Despite his more than adequate scholarship, he had to wait for entry until a member of the family could find someone to apply political pressure to get him appointed by a senator. While at the academy he formed a friendship with an older cadet, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Clark was graduated from the Academy in 1917, and asked for an assignment in the Infantry.
Soon Clark found himself as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force in France as America entered WWI. He led a group of soldiers for a short time and saw a small amount of action until he was hit in the back and shoulder with shrapnel from an exploding enemy shell. This put him in a hospital. The war was over before he had an opportunity to return to the fighting with his unit. He was assigned to a supply unit because he was not totally healthy. But he wanted to get back into battle. He was unsuccessful in that effort.
Returning to the United States in 1919, Clark was promoted to the rank of captain. During peacetime years Mark Clark had his share of deadly dull assignments and with them, several ailments of a digestive nature. These could be attributed to nervous tension, although there is no medical evidence for this. Clark also had a heart murmur which was frequently detected but deemed not bad enough to keep him from active service.
Clark was in Washington, DC, when he had a blind date with a pretty girl named Maurine Doran. It was 1923. She was from Muncie, Indiana, and was a graduate of Northwestern University and a good pianist. They continued to date and in May of 1924 they were married. The next year they had a son, William, and later, a daughter, Ann.
Like many other officers of his time Clark attended the Army’s Command and General Staff School and the Army War College, acquitting himself well. By 1940 Clark had attained the rank of Lt. Colonel. He had come to the attention of General George C. Marshall who began to use Clark and to groom him for greater assignments. Marshall had Clark assigned to the War College just as it was being closed. It was being replaced by the General Headquarters of the Army (GHQ) and Marshall wanted Clark to join it under General McNair. Clark took over “G-3,” the responsibility for training troops. The GHQ was later replaced by a similar group called Army Ground Forces (AGF) and Clark was named its Chief of Staff.
Clark was able to help advance Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike), who had been transferred from an assignment under Gen. MacArthur in the Philippines to Fort Lewis. Ike and MacArthur did not get along together well. The opportunity came when General Marshall asked Mark to recommend ten brigadier generals who could lead the war planning section.
“I’ll give you one name and nine dittos,” Clark said: “Dwight D. Eisenhower.”[i] In this way he helped bring Ike to the attention of General Marshall who put Ike on his own staff. Ike never forgot the service that Clark performed for him.
In his new staff post Clark became a temporary brigadier general as the U.S. entered World War II. In this position, Clark took part in the planning of the Louisiana maneuvers in 1942, in which Patton actually performed. Later in 1942, Clark, as a major general, was planning for several possible future moves by our troops in Europe. He began a rigorous training regimen which helped prepare men for eventual battles against the Germans.
Eisenhower was moved to England and he wanted Clark under him to command the II Corps that was also relocating to England.
Soon Eisenhower was in charge of the European Theater of Operations and Clark was his deputy. Ike depended heavily on his deputy, but he knew Clark was champing at the bit for an army to command. Of Mark Clark, Eisenhower wrote, “the best organizer, planner and trainer of troops I have yet met in the American Army.” And later Ike wrote “. . .he was becoming a bit consumed with a desire to push himself. . .”[ii] Evidently Clark had been blowing his own horn too loudly.
The one big item missing in Ike’s evaluation was Clark’s success at a combat command. He had none. Clark was aware of this and desperately wanted to lead an army into battle. Instead, Eisenhower appointed him to be in charge of Operation TORCH with General Patton under him. This required that Clark undertake a special, dangerous mission to North Africa where he attempted to negotiate a deal with the French so that they would not resist if we decided to invade. As noted elsewhere in the book, Clark almost did not make it back to his submarine when the negotiations were over.
Late in 1942, when the Fifth Army was about to be formed, Mark was quite persistent in his desire to become its commander. Patton thought he should be its commander, but Ike gave it to Mark Clark who was by then a Lt. General. General Marshall had to approve these assignments, of course, and he willingly did so. Mark Clark went on to military victories in Korea.
After retiring from the army, General Clark served (1954 to 1966) as president of The Citadel military academy, at Charleston, South Carolina. He wrote two books about his life experiences: Calculated Risk in 1950 and From the Danube to the Yalu in 1954.
Clark was buried at The Citadel.
Laban Jackson was both Clark’s and Patton’s HQ Commandant. What is interesting about his memoirs is what is not in them. There are several stories about Patton, which illustrate the complexity and valor and humor of the man. But there are no personal stories about General Clark. That is not to say that Clark was not brave and daring. He was. Historians supply many stories and these will be brought out in other chapters, but they are not stories supplied by the man in charge of his HQ Division.
General Clark took risks. And he wrote about them frankly. He recalled about Operation TORCH in North Africa, “We risked stripping the British Isles of fighting power. We took a chance—and a grave one—that the French in North Africa would join us instead of fighting us. We risked a German counterattack through Spain that would have severed our supply lines. We risked untried American forces against veteran enemy armies at a time when defeat would have been an almost fatal disaster.”[iii]
Mark Clark had a brilliant career and he out-ranked Patton most of the time, but he was not as flamboyant as Patton. Life Magazine did not pursue him for stories as it pursued Patton. But just as with Patton, controversy pursued Clark. However, Clark did not slap a soldier or complain publicly about the Russians. Criticism about Clark had to do with his decision-making abilities in three areas: the Anzio beachhead, the bombing of Monte Cassino and the crossing of the Rapido River.
It is interesting to compare the lives of Patton and Clark, two men whose fathers were officers in the Army before them. Clark spoke well of Patton, if a bit narrowly; Patton was hostile to Clark. However, these two generals showed greatness when the opportunity was offered them. Perhaps their fathers would also have risen to the heights that their sons did, if they were in such an all-consuming conflict.
Patton was the noisy, showy general who got results and Clark was the quiet, introspective general who also got results but not as spectacularly. Both men were egotists, and both were deeply patriotic. Both men had internalized value systems that included bravery, perseverance and trustworthiness. Both men impressed Generals Marshall and Eisenhower, but only Patton cowed the Germans. Both men were outstanding leaders. They had much in common, but Patton is the best remembered. Yet it would be difficult to find that one man served his country better than the other. Of course, Clark served his country longer after WWII, but that was an accident of fate.