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First Name: Harold

Last Name: Clark

Birthplace: St. Paul, MN, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Service, U.S. Army (1918 - 1926)

Middle Name: Melville

Date of Birth: 04 October 1890

Date of Death: 02 May 1919

Rank: Major

Years Served:
Harold Melville Clark


Harold Melville Clark
Major, U.S. Army Air Service

Harold Melville Clark was born on 4 October 1890 to Charles Asa and Amanda Palmer Clark in St. Paul, MN. The Clark family had a strong military tradition dating back to the Revolutionary War. Clark's older brother, Charles, served as a field-artillery officer with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I. His father fought Spanish forces in the Philippines while assigned to Company E, 13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, during the Spanish American War of 1898.

The end of the Spanish American War brought a period of growth and interest in the Philippines. Among those who cast their future into those Pacific islands was Clark's father. In 1904, Charles Asa Clark moved his family to Manila, where they enjoyed considerable wealth and prestige due to the family's business ventures. During this time, Harold attended the American High School in Manila and he graduated on 1 April 1910.

Military Service

Clark followed in his family's footsteps and returned to the U.S. for military training. After being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Cavalry in 1913, his first assignment was with 1st Cavalry Division. In 1916, Clark requested a transfer into the Signal Corps' Aviation Section, which had been created just two years earlier. Clark's request was approved and he was transferred to the North Island Flying School in San Diego, CA. On 3 May 1917, Clark received his rating as a Junior Military Aviator.

In the spring of 1916, Pancho Villa and a band of followers crossed the U.S. border and raided Columbus, NM. A short time later, Brigadier General John "Blackjack" Pershing was placed in command of the "Punitive Expedition," a mission to protect U.S. citizens and property along the border, as well as capture Villa. In an effort to prove the airplanes' military value, the Army supported Pershing's forces with air assets from the 1st Aero Squadron. Shortly after becoming a Junior Military Aviator, Clark joined 1st Aero Squadron and flew missions from bases at Columbus, NM; Kelly Field, TX; and Fort Sill, OK.

Aviation in the Hawaiian Islands

While Clark was becoming an aviator, the Signal Corps' Aviation Section, and military aviation in general, was off to a troublesome beginning in the Hawaiian Islands. The first Army airplanes, pilots, and crews, arrived on Oahu in July 1913. The planes were based at Fort Kamehameha, near present-day Hickam AFB.

Lieutenant Harold Geiger, who commanded the aviation assets, arrived in Oahu with "two Curtiss float planes, a Curtiss Aeroplane Company mechanic, 12 enlisted men, canvas hangars and other support equipment." However, Geiger's aircraft were in poor shape. Flying was limited to short flights in Pearl Harbor and a longer flight to Diamond Head and back to Fort Kamehameha. Geiger was ordered to cease all flying operations in late 1913, the planes were sold locally, and the engines were sent back to the North Island Flying School. The Hawaiian Islands wouldn't see any more Army aviation activity until 1917.

On 13 March 1917, 6th Aero Squadron arrived for duty at Fort Kamehameha under the command of Captain John Brooks. However, when the squadron arrived, they did so without airplanes. Brooks was promised two Curtiss N9 seaplanes, but as 1917 wore on, the seaplanes hadn't materialized. In August 1917, a frustrated Brooks sent a memorandum to the Army's Adjutant General detailing 6th Aero Squadron's activities. The three-page memorandum proposed three recommendations: (1) Purchase Ford Island as a joint Army and Navy aviation site; (2) Order 6th Aero Squadron back to the U.S. so it could be used in the war against Germany; and (3) Assign two more officers to 6th Aero Squadron.

The last recommendation was significant for several reasons. Brooks didn't feel he could safely fly a seaplane if the planes did actually arrive in Oahu. In his memorandum he wrote in detail about his lack of flying time while serving in Hawaii. It was Brooks' third recommendation, and his complaints about flying time, that resulted in Clark becoming 6th Aero Squadron's Commander and the Hawaii Department's Aviation Officer.

On 14 November 1917, Clark arrived at Fort Kamehameha with the promised Curtiss N9 seaplanes. He faced the formidable task of learning to fly in the Hawaiian Islands' challenging environment, as well as training 6th Aero Squadron's men. Initially he focused his efforts on learning about the Islands' prevailing winds and making short local flights over Oahu. Clark's flights were of great delight to residents, who were frequent spectators to his low-level flights over the cities on Oahu.

Within a few months, Clark was prepared to undertake a mission that would earn him a place in the history of the Hawaiian Islands. On 15 March 1918, he flew to Molokai and back to Fort Kamehemeha; the first inter-island flight made in the Hawaiian Islands. Upon his return to Fort Kamehameha, Clark was heralded as a hero by the military and civilians alike.

Clark's next achievement was a three-island flight. On 9 May 1918, Clark and mechanic Sergeant Robert Gray took off from Fort Kamehameha. The flight would initially stop in Maui and continue to the island of Hawaii. Upon landing in Maui, Clark and Gray received an enormous welcome from the Island's residents. From there the flight resumed to Hawaii, but Clark encountered fog and darkness over the island, causing him to crash in the jungle near Hilo. Two days after the crash, Clark and Gray emerged, unhurt, from the Hawaiian jungle.

Actually, Clark accomplished another "first" on this flight. He had agreed to deliver two letters from Oahu residents to their relatives on Hawaii and, after emerging from the jungle, Clark delivered the letters to their intended recipients. So, Clark carried the first letters by airmail in the Hawaiian Islands.

The fame Clark achieved from these flights is hard to imagine in a day where coast-to-coast jet flights are commonplace. However, in 1918 Hawaii, Clark's accomplishments were just short of miraculous. From accounts at the time, we can get an idea of the recognition paid to Clark. "He was the first aviator to fly regularly in the islands and was more than a hero in the eyes of the natives," William Dorrance wrote in Fort Kamehameha. "I remember attending a native luau in his home, and the deference paid him at the time was almost beyond belief."

Following the history-making flights in March and May 1918, Clark made regular flights among the islands. However, he was ordered back to the U.S. mainland on 28 August for pursuit training at the North Island Flying School. Following this, Clark assumed command of Pursuit Group, First Provisional Wing, at Minneola, Long Island, NY. Clark commanded this Group for only a short time before being ordered to Panama at the end of 1918.

Fatal Crash in Panama

In the fall of 1918, Clark arrived at France Field, located near present-day Colon, in Panama. He was assigned to the Panama Canal as Executive Officer for the 7th Observation Group.

On the morning of 2 May 1919, Clark and two other aviators, Lieutenant J.R.L. Hitt and Lieutenant Thomas Cecil Tonkin, left France Field for Balboa in an Army seaplane. Enroute, the plane developed engine problems but the trio safely made it to Balboa. That same afternoon, the three aviators began the return flight to France Field with Hitt at the controls. Due to the plane's earlier troubles, the flight followed the Panama Canal at an altitude of 250 feet.

Shortly into the flight, the plane's engine stopped. Hitt hoped to make Miraflores Lake to set the heavy seaplane down, but the plane crashed into the front of Miraflores Locks at about 5 PM. The best account of the crash is taken from the 3 May 1919 issue of the Panama Star & Herald: "The machine crumpled up like a house of cards, and the three men were thrown into the water of the Lock. Lieutenant Tonkin was undoubtedly killed instantly by the twisting timbers of the machine. …Major Clark sank to the bottom of the Lock, and it's not known whether he was killed in the crash or whether he drowned."

Hitt was severely injured in the crash but bystanders rescued him. The Panama Star & Herald reported that a diver was sent to retrieve Clark's body. The Army ruled his death as an accident due to internal injuries caused by "aeroplane traumatism," according to a Defense Department report on Clark's death dated 8 May 1919, and awarded his mother $10,000. Clark was buried on 29 May 1919, with full military honors, at Arlington National Cemetery.

The airbase that would eventually bear Clark's name was established as Fort Stotensberg in 1902. The Army used this installation as a Cavalry Post following the Spanish American War. During World War II, this base became pivotal in the Army Air Force's effort to win the air war against Japan.

Following the end of World War II and creation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947, Fort Stotensberg was renamed Clark Air Base in honor of Major Harold Melville Clark. In its prime, Clark Air Base was the U.S. military's largest overseas installation, consisting of an impressive 156,204 acres. Shortly after its establishment, Clark Air Base would serve as home to 13th Air Force for a number of years. Clark Air Base served the military well during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and it was the first stop of freedom for many returning prisoners of war from Vietnam.

On 26 November 1991, the U.S. gave Clark Air Base to the Republic of the Philippines and it is now an international airport serving the Philippine Islands.

Death and Burial

Major Harold Melville Clark died on 2 May 1919 in a seaplane crash in the Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal Zone. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

Honoree ID: 2344   Created by: MHOH




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