Korea, Cuban Missile Crisis highlight Air Force veteran’s career | Local News

Today’s veteran: Tommy Clark, 81

Service: Air Force, 4 years

Recognitions: National Defense Service Medal; Good Conduct Medal; Armed Force Expeditionary Ribbon; Korean Service Ribbon; Air Force Commendation Medal. U.N. 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 the other military branches because he believed there were more opportunities to advance his education.

He enlisted with the thoughts he could possibly be cross-trained to fly helicopters. But the aptitude tests showed he was best suited as an air policeman, providing security for the bombers and fighter jets on bases across 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 there were still ongoing skirmishes between North and South Korean troops.

“It was so impoverished,” he said. “It was a rude awakening. It was a very sobering experience.”

While he was serving there, a coup by the South Korean military created some tense moments of uncertainty for American troops.

“We were supporting the government of South Korea,” he said. “We stayed on alert.”

One of the toughest parts of duty in South Korea was patrolling the base and providing security for the aircraft during the winter weather.

“The coldest day of my life it was 23 below zero,” he said. “We had to guard everything.”

If got so cold, Clark said he and other guards were limited to 15 minutes outside. Finally, Clark said his commanding officer decided it was too cold to go outside for even that long.

“He said the weather would be the security for the base,” he said. “We liked that.”

During his free time in Korea, Clark said he mostly stayed on base playing cards, going to the movies and taking classes.

The other thing that occupied his free time was writing letters to his wife, who he married when his 13-month deployment to Korea ended. They celebrated their 60th anniversary Friday.

“We learned how to budget quickly on an airman’s salary,” Clark said.

The return flight from South Korea provided the tensest moment of Clark’s military career when the plane his unit was flying in got struck by lightning over the Sea of Japan.

The aircraft lost all interior lighting and had to depend on backup power for the next two and a half hours. The pilot was not very reassuring when he told the crew the aircraft would “probably” make it back.

When the aircraft approached the runway in Japan, Clark said he knew the situation was serious by the number of emergency vehicles lining the runway. Luckily, the plane landed safely.

“There was not an atheist on board,” he said.

He spend the remaining two and a half years at Warner Robins Air Force Base providing security for B-52 bombers and other aircraft.

He returned 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 it ended.

He said pilots slept in their aircraft and were prepared to be in the air within 15 minutes from a cold start. He said commanders were candid at staff meetings about the tense situation unfolding.

“At that young age it was a sobering thought it could be something you never dreamed of,” he said.

Clark said his military experience impacted his life in ways that cannot be measured.

“The military gave me a sense of responsibility,” he said.

Clark later serve eight years on the Glynn County Board of Commissioners and is a current member of the Glynn County Board of Elections, where he has served five years.

He was also a honoree on a recent honor flight to Washington.

“We deeply thank this community,” he said. “It was a real humbling moment.”

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