Lester Clark, 88 of Sapulpa
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2012
It’s been 67 years since World War II ended
and the Greatest Generation returned
home, but their memories survive. Read
stories about Oklahoma’s World War II
veterans from the Tulsa World.
survived an attack that sank his ship in the South Pacific and helped other casualties from the war.
After an unsuccessful attempt to enlist in the Marine Corps with his friend, Lester Clark went to sign up for the Navy with his cousin. They took them both and sent them to opposite coasts.
"I never saw him until the war was over," Clark said.
He went to San Diego in 1943 and was assigned to a Landing Craft Support ship in Hawaii. His first mission with the ship was to the South Pacific.
He and his ship hopped from island to island in the South Pacific. They would assist with operations there and work to clear the islands. They were working their way west and north, encountering more Japanese resistance along the way.
In February 1945, his ship was conducting mine-clearing operations near Bataan when it came under attack by a swarm of kamikaze boats, which were small, swift boats filled with explosives that would explode when they pulled up next to the ship. The ship was hit at least twice around 3 a.m., but none of the kamikaze boats hit Clark's compartment.
"You're kind of in a daze because the explosion rocked the whole ship," Clark said.
The survivors got up and tried to climb out, but it was dark, they were barefoot and wet and there were more explosions, one that knocked Clark down the ladder when he was near the deck.
When they were able to get out of the compartment, most of the men jumped off the burning ship into the dark water below.
"I didn't because I never could swim very good, which was not a good place to be," Clark said.
He went to his gun turret to find his life jacket, but he couldn't find it in the chaos and confusion, with tracer rounds from other ships trying to fight off the Japanese boats lighting up the sky.
Without a life jacket, he jumped into the water with the other survivors, some badly injured and struggling to survive.
"Lo and behold there was a life raft not very far away," Clark said. "The ones who were hurt, we got them in the raft. The ones not hurt, we stayed in the water and held on to the outside of the raft and paddled, helped push it."
The initial blasts killed about half the men on his ship. They were able to get to a beach, but some of the men were severely injured.
"We had some guys die right there on that beach that night," Clark said.
The survivors were picked up and taken to a temporary hospital ship, where Clark helped men recover. He was then taken to a big permanent hospital ship, but with his ship sunk, he was without a home.
He was able to eventually get back to the mainland United States and was there when he learned the war had ended. As a boy from Muskogee, he had seen the world and returned, unlike so many of his peers.
"There was a band on the pier playing for you and you were tickled to death to be alive," Clark said. "You felt like a hero."
MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World