Vietnam veteran deemed MIA to be honored by Iowa State

Virginia Zantow

Jerry Clark, Vietnam veteran and former ISU student, will be honored in a dedication ceremony Monday in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union for his service to the country, along with four other veterans.

Jerry’s name will be placed in limestone in the Gold Star Hall of the Memorial Union along with the names of other former ISU students who died in combat or are missing in action.

“[Jerry] was very outgoing, very friendly and very intelligent,” said Rose Clark, Jerry’s widow.

Jerry was a student in the College of Engineering from fall 1960 to spring 1961.

His brother, James Clark, described him as always having an interest in technical things, as well as in reading.

“As a kid, he was just interested in reading and learning,” James said.

Jerry was also a member of book clubs as a child and a math club as a student.

James said he remembers his brother’s outgoing, friendly nature.

“He was a good-natured person who liked people,” James said.

James described Jerry as a big brother who was “always teaching” him, and someone he considered a best friend.

Jerry proposed to Rose in 1961, after knowing her since the two were in middle school.

“I got my engagement ring Christmas Eve,” Rose said.

They were married in 1963, and he was sent to Vietnam two years later, in September 1965. He served as a chief warrant officer.

“We wrote letters all the time,” Rose said.

“Of course, it’s not like today, when you can do e-mails, but we got letters.”

When Rose found out her husband was declared “missing in action” in December of 1965, she said she was devastated.

Jerry was a pilot of a Cessna O1D Bird Dog aircraft used in an Army reconnaissance mission when his engine battery exploded, according to the Task Force Omega Inc.’s Web site.

He sent out emergency calls reporting the difficulties with his engine, reporting he was going to land the aircraft on the beach near the Qui Nhon Airfield.

Jerry’s plane was found in shallow water approximately 8 miles south of the airfield. When search teams examined the crash site, they found no survival gear, no blood and no other signs of enemy attack.

The U.S. Army suspected he had been captured by Communist forces operating in the area, but due to lack of evidence, he was listed as MIA, according to the Web site.

Rose said his status was changed to deceased in 1973, but his body was never found.

“You always have hope [that he is alive],” Rose said.

James said his brother was an honorable, brave man.

“He took on the job, and he tried to do it to the best of his ability,” James said. “Nobody likes war, but sometimes you have to fight.”

Kathy Svec, marketing director for the Memorial Union, said she initially had some trouble contacting Jerry’s loved ones to learn more about him, and inform them of his inclusion in the memorial.

“We knew he was from Davenport, but Clark is a very common name,” Svec said.

“We just didn’t know where to start.”

In order to find out more about Jerry, Svec wrote a letter to the editor of the Quad City Times, asking people who knew Jerry to contact the Memorial Union.

“That really produced many phone calls and many e-mails,” Svec said.

People who walked to school with Jerry or worked at a part-time job with him wrote in to tell of their memories.

Eventually Svec was able to contact James and find more information about him. She said the process was “very heartwarming.”

“I’m very interested in the process of keeping the memories of these people alive,” Svec said. “That’s what history does – that’s what the memorial does. It keeps them alive.”