Mark W. Clark

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Mark W. Clark

Born May 1, 1896
Madison Barracks, New York
Died April 1984
Charleston, South Carolina

American military leader

Mark W. Clark was best known for his command of the U.S. Fifth Army in World War II (1939–45), which he led through Italy in some of the most difficult and decisive battles of the war. By the end of that conflict, he was considered one of the top generals in the United States armed forces. Clark came back into the spotlight in 1952 when he took command of the United Nations forces and the U.S. Army forces in the Far East, relieving Matthew B. Ridgway (1895–1993; see entry) during the Korean War (1950–53). In Korea, Clark faced many obstacles that he had never known before in war, particularly limited warfare, an uncooperative Korean president, and a prisoner-of-war camp takeover. The frustrated general saw the Korean War through to the end and was there to sign the armistice, but he never hesitated to express his disgust at being the first U.S. commander to agree to a truce without victory.

Heading for the military

Mark Wayne Clark was born in Madison Barracks, New York, on May 1, 1896. He was a third-generation soldier and his father was a career army officer. Although he had health problems throughout his youth, Clark was able to get an appointment to West Point, the U.S. military academy, at the age of seventeen with the help of his aunt, who was the mother of the noted military leader and statesman George C. Marshall (1880–1959). Clark continued to have health problems during his years at West Point and for a few years afterwards, which at first kept him from advancing or excelling in the military. During World War I (1914–18), however, he found a chance to prove himself as a captain in the Eleventh Infantry Division in France in 1917. He was wounded in action and awarded for his bravery.

During the next twenty years, Clark held a variety of posts and attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Army War College. In August 1941, he was promoted to temporary brigadier general, at least in part because of his close associations with two top generals, his cousin George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; see entry). He served initially as assistant chief of staff for operations of general headquarters and rose quickly to chief of staff of army ground forces. In these positions he organized and trained the growing army to meet the demands being created by World War II (1939–45). He put a very rigorous training program into effect and was promoted to lieutenant general.

World War II

In 1942, Clark became deputy commander of the Allied forces in North Africa. (The Allies were the United States, the British Commonwealth, the Soviet Union, and some other European nations; they were fighting the Axis Powers, including Germany, Italy, and Japan.) In making his plans for a North African invasion, he made a secret submarine journey to the German-occupied territory of Algeria late in 1942. There he met with French officers and tried to convince them to help the Allies against the Germans in their invasion of North Africa. He even forced one French leader to denounce the Vichy government (the French government that collaborated with the Germans during the war; the Free French, on the other hand, supported the Allies). After his return, Clark made public his personal account of the rendezvous and became quite a sensation in the United States because of it.

In 1943 and 1944, Clark was in charge of the Fifth Army in Europe, a collection of American and British forces. Although Italy had surrendered before the Fifth Army landed there, the Germans were not giving up. Clark's forces landed with great difficulty at Salerno, in southwest Italy, on September 3, 1943, encountering heavy resistance. The army then conducted a grueling twenty-month campaign, traversing the entire length of the country. The Allies were greatly outnumbered by German troops that were better armed and equipped. The weather was terribly cold and the terrain was mountainous. Eventually, Clark's forces captured Naples and Rome and landed at Anzio. In the spring of 1945, they took Bologna, Genoa, Milan, Padua, and Venice. On May 2, 1945, the Germans in Italy surrendered.

A three-star general

After the tremendous successes in Italy, Clark took over the command of the Fifteenth Army and accepted the surrender of the Germans in Austria and Italy at the end of the war. His army then occupied southern Austria in an attempt to keep the Soviet Union from taking over there. (As World War II drew to a close, the Allies began to divide up territories that had been controlled by the soon-to-be-defeated enemies.) Clark served as the military governor of Austria until 1947.

Clark returned to the United States in 1947 as a three-star general and a leading American commander. He was by this time staunchly anti-Soviet and a champion of keeping American forces in a state of military preparedness for war in order to stop the communist Soviet Union from expanding its spheres of control. (The Soviet Union existed as a unified country from 1922 to 1991. It was made up of fifteen republics, including Russia. Its form of government, communism, advocates the elimination of private property. It is a system in which goods are owned by the community as a whole rather than by specific individuals and are available to all as needed.) Tall, thin, and sharp-featured, Clark was not universally liked. Many found him arrogant, cold, and ambitious, and he was accused by some of looking out for his own interests and seeking publicity. But Clark also had many admirers, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874–1965) and French President Charles DeGaulle (1890–1970) among them. He was well known for his efficiency and competence in organizing and training as well as for being tough and getting the job done. In 1949, he was appointed chief of the army's field forces.

Third supreme commander in Korean War

At the time the Korean War began in 1950, Clark was thinking about retiring, but U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972), seeing a need for his leadership, asked him to remain on active duty. In April 1951, Truman announced that he was firing General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964), commander of the U.S. Army forces in the Far East and the supreme commander of the United Nations (UN) forces. Matthew B. Ridgway (1895–1993; see entries) took MacArthur's position. Soon after Ridgway took over, the truce talks with the North Koreans and the Chinese began (the UN forces—including the Americans—supported the anticommunist South Koreans), but the fighting continued for more than two years, with negotiations going off and on throughout. The fighting had been reduced to trench warfare, with enemies dug into position facing each other. Battles resulted in many casualties but not much advance. On April 30, 1952, Ridgway was appointed NATO commander in Europe and Mark Clark became supreme commander of the UN forces and the U.S. Army forces in the Far East. (NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of nations in Europe and North America formed in 1949 primarily to counter the threat of Soviet and communist expansion.)

Crisis in the POW camp

World War II had not prepared Clark for the kinds of problems that would face him in Korea. The first emergency he faced was in the UN prisoner of war (POW) camp at Koje-do, an island off the southern end of the Korean peninsula. When Clark arrived at his headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, on May 7, 1952, the North Korean and Chinese prisoners at Koje-do had just kidnapped the American general in charge of the camp. He soon learned some of the background to the crisis, particularly that the POWs in the camp had developed an internal government; that they received orders from Communist China and North Korea; and that some of the inmates had purposely allowed themselves to be taken captive so they could organize the prisoners from the inside. The prisoners had put the kidnapped general on trial for the deaths of nineteen inmates. They then presented the acting commandant of the camp with a list of demands. Without a go-ahead from his superiors, the acting commandant, urged on by the kidnapped commandant, met the prisoners' demands, giving them a statement saying that some North Korean and Chinese POWs had been killed by the American and South Korean guards and promising to correct the situation in the future.

Clark was furious that the prisoners' demands had been met. When an investigation by another general exonerated (cleared from wrong-doing) the two prison camp commandants, Clark would not stand for it. He recommended to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the president's military advisors) that both generals be demoted in rank to colonels and that the investigating general be reprimanded for not taking action against them. Truman agreed, and Clark placed a hard-line general, supported with about fifteen thousand troops, in charge of the prison camp. After an initial uprising, the prison camp was brought under control by force. In this first incident, Clark was beginning to understand the difference in the kind of war being waged in Korea than what he had known in the world wars. He said in his memoirs, From the Danube to the Yalu: "I hadn't bothered to ask anyone in Washington about POWs, because my experience had been with old fashioned wars… . Never had I experienced a situation in which prisoners remained combatants and carried out orders smuggled out to them from the enemy High Command."

Syngman Rhee, ally or opponent?

When the United Nations decided to press for truce talks with the Chinese and North Koreans, it was evident that negotiations would settle the war with a Korea still divided near the 38th parallel and with the Chinese troops still in North Korea. (The 38th parallel—the 38th degree of north latitude as it bisects the Korean peninsula—was selected as the dividing line between North and South Korea in August 1945, at the end of World War II.) Peace talks were agreeable to most nations but not to the fiercely anticommunist South Korean president, Syngman Rhee (1875–1965; see entry). The United States decided to pursue the truce anyway, and present it as a done deal to Rhee.

Rhee's grip on his position in the Republic of Korea (ROK) was not strong. In the summer of 1952, the public elected a new National Assembly. The majority of these newly elected legislators did not support Rhee. Since the constitution specified that the National Assembly elect the president, it was clear that Rhee would not return to his position. He therefore demanded that the National Assembly change the constitution, so that he could be elected by popular vote. When it refused, Rhee declared martial law (law enforced by the military during emergencies) in the southern part of the peninsula and had his forces arrest some of the members of the assembly.

At first Clark found it best to put up with Rhee's dictatorial methods, but as the situation grew more and more tense, he believed Rhee was putting the entire military effort in Korea at risk. He and Eighth Army commander James A. Van Fleet (1892–1992; see entry) both tried to work with Rhee and talk reason into the old ruler. They both found him beyond rational discussion and even questioned his sanity. Clark eventually drew up a plan for a coup, with the UN forces taking over the government of the Republic of Korea. In July 1952, however, Rhee succeeded in persuading the National Assembly to change the constitution and lifted the martial law.

Trench warfare

In the spring of 1951, the UN forces and the North Korean/Chinese forces had entered a stalemate in which each side had dug into position across the demarcation line near the 38th parallel. Although the battles were violent and losses were high, there was no real advance in position after that time in the war. One side or the other would succeed only in gaining a hill or two. With negotiations between the two sides ongoing, there was a limit to how much damage to the enemy could be done. To Clark, the biggest limitation was the ban on fighting the Chinese on their own territory, at least by air. (UN forces had no authority to cross into China, and widespread international concern over the extent of American aggression in Korea ruled this out.) Clark wanted to bomb mainland China north of the Yalu River, which forms the border between North Korea and China. He developed elaborate plans to fight the Chinese with everything the UN forces could muster, including the use of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist army exiled in Taiwan (formerly Formosa). (Chiang Kai-shek [1887–1975; see entry] was the leader of the Chinese Nationalist government, which was driven to the island of Taiwan after being defeated by the Communist Chinese in 1949 following the Chinese Civil War.) Clark was told that his plan would widen the war and could not be put into effect. When his friend and close associate Dwight D. Eisenhower replaced Truman as president, Clark prepared another plan to bomb mainland China. To his dismay, Eisenhower, too, wanted to fight on a limited basis and end the war through the truce talks. In the meantime, however, Clark launched devastating air raid campaigns on North Korea.

Truce in Korea

In 1953, Clark negotiated with the Chinese and North Koreans to organize Operation Little Switch, in which sick and wounded prisoners were exchanged between the sides. After that the truce talks began again in earnest. Again, Rhee began to threaten to pull the ROK troops out of the fighting, swearing that he would never go along with the terms of a truce. As the truce became more assured, Clark worked hard to talk Rhee into cooperating, but made no progress, finding the ruler too emotional to listen. Then on June 18, 1953, Rhee ordered the release of twenty-seven thousand North Korean prisoners of war that did not want to go back to their country, just as their fate was being negotiated in the truce talks. It was clear that the UN was negotiating without any control over the primary party

to the truce: the Republic of Korea. U.S. diplomats then joined Clark's difficult task of persuading Rhee to accept the armistice arrangements and the end of warfare, promising massive aid in money, arms, training, and American troops. When Rhee finally agreed to go along with the truce, it was soon arranged. On July 27, 1953, Clark was one of the parties to sign the armistice. When asked for comment, he simply said, as quoted in Clay Blair's history, The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950–1953: "I cannot find it in me to exult in this hour."

President of the Citadel

Clark retired from the army in October 1953 and took on the presidency of the Citadel, the private military college in Charleston, South Carolina. He held that position until 1960, and was president emeritus (honorary president after retire ment) until 1965. Clark wrote two books of war memoirs, Cal culated Risk in 1950 and From the Danube to the Yalu in 1954.

Clark died of cancer in South Carolina at the age of 87. Upon his death, President Ronald Reagan said of him, as quoted in his Time obituary: "We are free because of men like him. His professionalism and dedication will be the standard of every soldier who takes the oath to defend our nation."

Where to Learn More

Alexander, Bevin. Korea: The First War We Lost. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1986, revised edition, 2000.

Blair, Clay, The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950–1953. New York: Times Books, 1987.

Clark, Mark. From the Danube to the Yalu. New York: Harper Brothers, 1954.

Devine, Michael J. "Mark Wayne Clark." In The Korean War: An Encyclopedia, edited by Stanley Sandler. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995.

Goulden, Joseph C. Korea: The Untold Story of the War. New York: Times Books, 1982.

"The Last Commander Falls; Mark Wayne Clark: 1896–1984," Time, April 30, 1984, p. 68.

Paschall, Rod. Witness to War: Korea. New York: Perigree Book, 1995.

Webster's American Military Biographies. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1978.

Words to Know

armistice: talks between opposing forces in which they agree to a truce or suspension of hostilities.

limited warfare: warfare with an objective other than the enemy's complete destruction, as in holding a defensive line during negotiations.

martial law: suspension of civil rights during a time of state or national emergency.

military preparedness: being ready to fight in a war, in terms of personnel, training, equipment, arms, transportation, and other factors.

stalemate: deadlock; the state in which the efforts of each party in a conflict cancels out the efforts of the other party so that no one makes any headway.

trench warfare: combat in which enemies dig into ditches facing each other across the battlefield; the ditches then serve as defensive positions. Trench warfare is usually associated with World War I (1914–18).