REVIEW BY BILL MURCHISON, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
"Oh, God, I'm dead!" cried Capt. Allen Clark when a North Vietnamese mortar burst landed 18 inches behind his left leg, June 17, 1967.
Legitimate reaction, premature conclusion. Allen Clark, 40 years later, would have us know he is more alive today than at any previous time in his life: alive and striving, in a way for which not even his beloved West Point could have prepared him; his agonies and victories pointing up some of the major complexities of our complex time.
No legless man moved with more agility through the terrible tests of post-war life. He just kept coming, unstoppably -- in business, public service, fatherhood, personal bankruptcy, divorce, remarriage, and intense deepening and re-positioning of an already-keen religious faith.
No personable, eagerly patriotic, just-married man deserves to have his legs blown off in combat. Or worse. From the pages of this remarkable memoir rises, nevertheless, a question: Would a two-legged Allen Clark have discovered within himself, and shared, gifts of compassion comparable to those the prosthetically equipped Allen Clark would marshal during his tenure in the George H. W. Bush's Department of Veterans Affairs, where he worked to erase the various marks the war had left on so many?
"I know now," he writes, "that God spared me for the purpose of living my life as He would have me live it by representing Him with honor, by blooming wherever He plants me, and by using my experiences in life to help others in similar circumstances."
With government service behind him, Texan Clark, now planted in Dallas, strove to keep the lights on for those still in darkness. The ministry he founded in 2004, Combat Faith Ministry, addresses the plights of veterans afflicted with substance abuse, homelessness, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Not a few contemporary Americans see religious faith as a potentially fatal entanglement for a free society; whereas Clark sees just the reverse -- faith as integral to any life lived meaningfully, any civic experience entertaining pretense to success. "This is not just another book about the Vietnam War," he writes. "It is a book about the spiritual war that we all fight on a daily basis -- the war between good and evil and the battle for our very souls. I wrote this book for the purpose of telling you that there is victory -- victory that brings peace and forgiveness and promise."
Though Allen Clark would never deceive us: Victory isn't a case merely of whoops-lost-my-legs-let's-get-on-with-it. His account of adaptation to a life without legs is harrowing at times. And startling. (At a football game a bystander complains loudly on noticing that Clark, seated nearby, has removed his prosthetics to ease the pain they cause.) His long-past decision to volunteer for combat duty in Vietnam undermines his marriage to the beautiful girl he wooed, won, and eventually lost (though they remain friends).
Wars in a sense never end, for victor or vanquished either one. How enriching to learn that Vietnam, which broke so many hearts and lives, gave -- and gives -- a sort of victory to one of the supposedly vanquished. Few "dead" men in our time have lived with so much vigor, so much capacity to inspire.
Radford Distinguished Professor of Journalism
Author of forthcoming book on the crisis in the Episcopal Church of the USA
REVIEW BY CY KAMMEIER, PURPLE HEART MAGAZINE
WOUNDED SOLDIER, HEALING WARRIOR
By Allen B. Clark
Zenith Press—an imprint of MBI Publishing Co.
Galtier Plaza—Suite 200
380 Jackson Street
St. Paul, MN 55101-3885
Forward by Ross Perot
(Available March 2007)
Reviewed by Cy Kammeier, Editor
This is a personal story of a Vietnam Veteran who lost his legs in Vietnam. It was early morning, June 17, 1967, and Dak To Special Forces camp in Vietnam was under
attack. In the time it took for the bright flash of a mortar explosion to fill the pre-dawn darkness, the life of West Point graduate Allen B. Clark Jr. would be changed forever. The support of a loving wife and competence of Brooke Army Hospital provided the impetus for the healing necessary to forge on with his life. Among the more poignant passages in his book, Clark relates an experience early in his recovery. After the effects of morphine had worn off, he was waiting for his wife, Jackie, a regular visitor to his bedside. When the pain dragged him down and she had not yet arrived, in desperation he asked a single amputee in the next bed if he would hold his hand. Without hesitating, this understanding black enlisted man held his hand until Jackie arrived. Clark noted his sympathetic touch not only helped take his mind off the pain, but also helped him realize that he was not alone. In addition, this act of kindness helped him see that neither race nor rank nor status of officers and enlisted men existed on the ward as it did on military bases and battlefields.
An equally poignant passage relates to his spiritual awakening, and as a result Clark gained in both physical and spiritual strength.
Wounded Soldier, Healing Warrior is a book needed by those in the process of physical recovery from wounds of war, accident or heritage, as well as by the families and loved ones who care about “their” patient. The reader will come away uplifted in body, mind and spirit. Sharing in this brave warrior’s experience, through his adversities, gifts, and blessings reveal the inner strength of the human spirit.
While Clark enabled himself to largely overcome his disability, he writes about his career moves in a life that ventured into State and National politics. His book provides the reader with a look into the intrigue, hard work, success and disappointment associated with such a life. Clark’s message: In addition to fortune that befalls us, personal fortitude and acceptance of the will of God in adversity and opportunity provide the road to meaning and understanding of one’s purpose in life.
REVIEW BY OZZIE GARZA, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, DALLAS OPA
Valley Warrior Turns Vietnam War Injury Into Personal Triumph
By Ozzie Garza
Allen B. Clark, Jr. had it all and wanted it all. He had the smarts, charisma, good looks and a positive attitude in life. He wanted a West Point education, a military career where he would reach the rank of general, a Presidential appointment to head a major government department and ultimately a career in politics where he would hold elective office.
The Mission native knew early in life what he wanted to be and set out to do it – quickly. His outstanding grades at a prestigious Northeastern preparatory school (the Phillips Exeter Academy) allowed him to be accepted by the U.S. Military Academy in West Point following his junior year in high school.
He entered West Point at a very young age determined to fulfill his life long dream. But that dream quickly became a nightmare as the rigorous program at the academy for incoming freshmen took its toll on the young cadet.
Disheartened and dissolutioned, he seriously considered leaving the academy after only one month. After much agonizing Clark went to see the cadet company commander, an upperclassman named James N. “Nicky” Rowe to tell him of his decision.
“Clark, my mother sent me an article about you from the McAllen paper,” Rowe said. “She asked me to watch out for you here and I don’t think you should leave.”
Rowe encouraged his fellow Rio Grande Valley native assuring him that “the end result is worth the price you have to pay to get there.”
Clark credits Rowe’s encouragement that day as a “major turning point” in the young freshman’s life.
He left Rowe’s office more determined than ever to persevere to achieve his goals despite any setbacks that may come his way.
During his four years at West Point, Clark immersed himself in the academy’s stringent curriculum, excelling in the school’s debate team and graduating in the top half of his class. He had done it.
Life was good. He had been commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army and had married a beautiful Texas coed named Jackie. He was on a roll.
He had crossed his first hurdle in achieving a West Point education and was now ready to begin his military career as an Army officer.
Unbeknownst to his new bride, Clark volunteered to go to Vietnam. After all, there was a war going on and he was prepared to serve his country in the war. That’s what Army officers do.
And that’s what Clark did – until that early morning day on June 17, 1967, in a place in Vietnam called Dak To, derailed his planned journey. What happened on that predawn morning would forever change his life.
While assisting in the camp defense, Captain Clark, assigned to the Army’s elite Special Forces, was hit by a mortar explosion from enemy fire gravely injuring him. The severe injury resulted in the amputation of both of his legs. He had become a wounded warrior. His life’s journey had taken an unexpected and unwelcome detour.
A detour that would involve numerous surgeries, a long recovery period, bouts of depression, and severe symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The gung ho Army officer now faced an uncertain future and knew that his military career would most certainly come to an early end.
In his book Wounded Soldier, Healing Warrior, scheduled for release next month by Zenith Press, Clark chronicles his life story that takes him to high peaks and through the valley of the shadow of death.
It’s a poignant story about turning a terrible tragedy into a terrific triumph. It’s a heart wrenching story about losing your legs but finding renewed strength and desire. It’s about taking advantages of a second chance at life.
While recuperating at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Clark found strength and encouragement from a bible scripture he had learned as a youth. It reads, “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
He knew right then that there was a purpose for him surviving. He could easily have been one of the more than 58,000 killed in the Vietnam conflict. But his name is not on the black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
He survived the Vietnam conflict and would survive the numerous surgeries and the rigorous physical therapy required to learn to walk again on two prosthetic legs.
The one time Army officer also had to learn another career since he would be entering the civilian world. He enrolled in Southern Methodist University in Dallas and received his Masters Degree in Business Administration.
That allowed him to care for his family that would grow by two with the birth of his daughters.
Although never fully recovered from his injuries, he had made considerable progress and now yearned for that self-confidence and assurance that was characteristic of him.
He found it in the political arena. In his book Clark writes that “(his) interest in politics did not begin as a replacement for military service. It actually began in 1948, when at the tender age of six, I spoke at a local political rally in Mission, Texas.”
In 1978, Clark worked for the Bill Clements Gubernatorial campaign and played a key role in Clements becoming the first Republican governor of Texas in 104 years. Clark’s efforts were rewarded when the new governor offered him high level job on the governor’s staff. While in that job Clark was instrumental in creating a mechanism to develop a comprehensive long-range public and private disability policy for the State of Texas. It was a model that the National Council on the Handicapped used in creating the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities.
Encouraged by the success of the Clements campaign, Clark entered a political race of his own in 1982 running for the office of state treasurer against Anne Richards. He was soundly defeated by Richards, who would later become governor of Texas. Undeterred Clark sought elective office again four years later running for Travis Country judge. He lost that election.
Again he sought strength and encouragement from the bible scripture that “…“…all things work together for good to them that love God…”
He held on to that belief as Clark was faced with numerous challenges during the 1980s. There was the death of both his parents and his mother-in-law. His attempt at entrepreneurship in the real estate business resulted in financial hardship that painted a not so bright future.
But never one to give up, Clark writes that he saw this difficult period as “a time of incredible spiritual growth.” Believing that God had another place for him to go, Clark waited patiently.
He didn’t have to wait long as President George H. W. Bush nominated him to be Assistant Secretary for Veterans Liaison at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Washington, D.C. The Senate later confirmed him for that position. Two years later he was once again nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate to become the director of the National Cemetery System overseeing VA’s 113 veterans cemeteries nationwide.
But not all good things last forever.
Clark would face more challenges in 1993 as he left Washington after the end of the Bush administration. As a political appointee he lost his job when the new administration took office. Also, his four years in Washington had put a strain on his marriage which ended in divorce soon thereafter.
Despite this setback, Clark continued to persevere.
A strong advocate for veterans, especially disabled veterans, Clark returned to the VA in 1996, accepting a job at the VA North Texas Health Care System in Dallas. He became the administrative officer for the Dallas VA Medical Center spinal cord unit. Later he served as the medical center’s public affairs officer.
Now retired from federal service, the 64-year-old Clark, with his new wife Linda, invests his energy and service to the Lord’s work. He found Combat Faith Ministry, an organization that helps veterans who may be struggling with war related issues and family hardships. He strongly believes that God has preserved him for a greater purpose – to minister and help those in need. “It is the desire of my heart to fulfill the purpose for which God allowed me to live on that chilling morning in a country half way around the world,” Clark said.
His personal journey, which had begun at a young age in Mission, Texas, has now become a spiritual journey, a journey in which he hopes others will join him.
Allen B. Clark, Jr. author of Wounded Soldier, Healing Warrior, will be at the Mission Public Library, 801 East 12th Street, on Saturday, Feb. 24. The Mission native will be signing copies of his new book from 10:00 a.m. to noon.
The 320-page hardback tells the story of a soldier who was seriously wounded in the Vietnam Conflict and turned this tragedy into a personal triumph.
The author has dedicated the book to the men and women who have served and continue to serve the cause of freedom in America’s armed forces and to the caregivers of our nation’s veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
BOOK REVIEW - EVANGELICAL FREE CHURCH OF AMERICA CHAPLAIN NEWSLETTER - SUMMER 2008
This is an inspirational look at the values that have made and continue to make this nation great. Duty, honor, and country are not only the themes of the book but the core theme of the entire life of a patriot..Allen Clark's story is one that provides a real hero's glimpse at the rigors of military life, surviving a serious injury, and becoming a man of serious Christian faith.