In June, 1975, Richard Gilbert directed a production for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation entitled ‘The Old South’ – a salute to the USA Bi-Centennial. As part of the production he interviewed US Five Star General Mark Wayne Clark, then President of the Citadel Military College of South Carolina. Clark fought in World War I, and during World War II was commander of allied forces in Italy, liberating Rome in June 1944. He led American troops in Korea, and signed the armistice on behalf of the United Nations with North Korea and China. Retiring from Military service after Korea, Clark offered up unique insights and recollections from a period marked by Cold War tension. Richard Gilbert, for Three Monkeys Online, presents extracts from an interview that, with America once more engaged in war, remains particularly topical.
“It’s funny, the screwballs we can get, trying to be nominated for President. The woods are full of them now, most of them are totally unqualified to be President, but the party doesn’t mind, doesn’t care about the qualifications or his virtues or anything else but they want a man they can get in and they can dictate to, they don’t want a strong man, that’s where we’re in trouble.
When I decided that I would retire I had had 40 years service in the army. I had just come from being the commander-in-chief of the United Nations forces fighting in Korea. I signed the Armistice. I had been in World War 11 and World War 1. I had made trips into Viet Nam and I thought I’d had enough.
I flew back from Korea with the armistice document that I had signed on behalf of the United Nations and Kim Il Sung had signed for the Chinese and North Koreans and I placed it on President Eisenhower’s desk in his office. Ike and I were old friends, classmates, not classmates, but we had been at West Point and overlapped two years and Ike was glad to get the document. And he said, among many other things, ‘When are you going back to Korea?’ and I said ‘Ike – he didn’t like to be called Ike when he was President, but I forgot – I’m not planning to go back to Korea.’ and he said ‘Well don’t you know during the emergency you have to go back?’ and I said ‘I thought the emergency was over.’ So he pushed buttons, and people came, he explained, there was an argument, they came back and said I was correct. I could retire. And he said ‘Well, ah, I want you to go back. Will you obey my instructions?’ I said ‘Yes sir.’ He said ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’ I said ‘The same thing you did go into education.’ and he said ‘That’s fine, where?’ I told him in confidence, because it hadn’t been announced yet, that I was being given the Presidency of the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina. I had seen their sons all over the world on battlefields. I had served with them. I knew what the Citadel stood for and I wanted to have a part in my remaining years of usefulness, in the education and character development of youth.
I went overseas in 1942. General Eisenhower and I flew over together as Major Generals. He was in Washington in charge of planning, I was in Washington in charge of training, until General Marshall sent us over. We came back, we were sent right back again, he as Commander and I as the Deputy Commander. We worked immediately with Mr. Churchill. I think probably one of my greatest memories were our meetings with Mr. Churchill. He took on the two of us every Wednesday night at dinner at number 10 Downing Street, so as he could check up on ‘just how well are you doing with your planning to go into North Africa?’ That is a great memory.
I think my greatest pleasure, if you can talk about pleasure in war, is when at the end of the war, in 1945, I, as the commander of all the ground troops in Italy, which included all nationalities, and the Fifth American Army and the British 8th Army was privileged to accept the surrender from the German commander of hundreds of thousands of German troops that we had maintained in Italy. My job in being assigned to go in and capture the Port of Naples and march north in Italy was to drag into Italy as many German divisions as I could and chew them up and keep them from intervening in Ike’s main show across the Channel. It was a rather inglorious, unglamorous job, like the tackles and guards of a football team who block and take people out of the way so that some other bird can make an end run. Well, that’s sort of the way we were in Italy and we did our job and liberated Rome on June 4th 1944.
I’m proud to be an American. I hesitate to be critical of my country but in all sincerity I feel that we have very grave troubles at the present time. We don’t seem to have the statesmen that we used to have. I like to think as this bicentennial comes up in 1976, and I’m involved in it. .on the committee, that we had statesmen in the past. Those, for example, who signed the Declaration of Independence, that was a very controversial document as you may or may not know, who signed it, signed their lives, theirs fortunes, their honour, everything to fulfill its obligations.
We seem to collect in public life too many individuals who are more interested in their own well being, more power that they can get for their re-election, than they are in what’s good for the country. I often think and worry as I enumerate the various problems that bedevil us, if we just had enough statesmen in Washington who would get together and let’s say we are in a bad fix, let’s declare a moratorium on greed and politics and re-election or whatever, for one year and pull America out of its troubles. We would do it, we could do it. But here you find Congress fighting with the President over energy, no positive steps being taken to conserve it or to provide for our own source for the future and it’s very discouraging. We have the Communists helping us, certainly they’re behind our racial problems, we read about in the papers in many places school bussing and things of that kind and having just fought a very unglamorous Viet Nam war which we didn’t win, everybody bows their head a little bit in shame. We exhausted a lot of our resources in manpower and equipment and now it’s high time that America get strong once again like it was at the end of World War 11. It’ll be the best insurance that any country could possibly take, for when you are strong militarily, you are unafraid politically, that’s when you keep the peace and that’s what we all want.
I would be very remiss if I did not recall my association with your wonderful men who fought in all the wars in which I’ve been engaged, beginning in World War 1.
I was an infantryman. I knew of the exploits of your Canadians in World War 1. I saw them in World War 11 and for a while I had them under my command in the 15th Army Group under General Crerar and then they took that Corps up to England to participate in Ike’s main show across the channel. I had your Canadians again with me in Korea as a part of a Commonwealth division. I always liked to be near and associated with the Canadians in combat because we spoke the same language, we’re pretty much alike. You’re proud of your country, we’re proud of ours . We have some differences, but thank God we’re the kind of friends that when one side would get into trouble the other side would be at our side. So it’s always been a pride for me to be associated with Canadians to see their fighting capacity to have that extra insurance.
General Alexander was my immediate commander in World War 11, all through the war. I had the Fifth American army he commanded the army group with Monty’s 8th and my 5th. Then they moved Alexander up and I took over the army group. I was in daily contact with Alex…as I called him. I never found a more capable or honest or objective fellow. Sure, the British had objectives that might conflict with those of America but we always worked them out. We had arguments, we worked them out and I always thought that he was one of the finest soldiers that I ever met. When I was commander-in-chief in Korea and Alexander was the Minister of War in Great Britain I stepped out and bombed a hydro electric power plant up on the Yallow River which was a very touchy subject. It came as a shock to the British.
It came as a shock to my country too I might say! But I knocked out the power in Manchuria and in North China and everybody in those days was scared that if we did something bold in Korea or Viet Nam we might spark World War 111. Immediately I got a radiogram from Alexander saying my government is very much disturbed over the action you’ve taken on this sweet old dam. He said I would appreciate it very much if you would send me an invitation to come and visit you right away. He wanted to get out of the country. So I sent him the invitation and he got in a plane and flew and each place he stopped the press would get him and they’d ask him what are you going to do about the Korean war? ‘Well’, he said, ‘I’m going to see my old friend and comrade-in-arms, General Mark Clark’, and he says one thing I’m going to ask him to do is to put a Britisher up at Pan Mun Jong.
We were having enough troubles at Pan Mun Jong so the last thing I thought I wanted to do was to have a Britisher up there because it wouldn’t do any good. So when he landed I said, ‘Alex you embarrassed me about that Britisher at Pan Mun Jong’. He said ‘I’m sorry’. I said ‘now, I know what you want and I’m going to make you an offer. I’m going to keep you informed directly from my headquarters in Korea to the Minister of Defence in Britain direct line to you as to what goes on, what I’m intending to do, so if it’s a shock to your country, you will have advised them. I’m going to offer to put a British General as my deputy chief of staff’. I didn’t even ask my country and he said ‘would you do that?’ He said ‘that’s wonderful that’ll solve my problem and I’ll send you a good person’. I said ‘listen Alec, I want to have a say in the picking of that British General because I’ve just finished fighting several years with them’. He said ‘who do you want?’ I said ‘I want Major General Steve Schusmith’, whom I’d known in Italy, and he said, ‘I will send him to you immediately’. So he sent this General to me and I put him up as my deputy chief of staff and he sat in on all councils. He heard every decision and when he got through, he had the right to come back to me and say may I send that word to Alexander and I would say yes, from then on there were no problems. And that’s the way it should have worked out so I have had great relationships, not only with the Canadians but with the British. They’re good fighters we had our problems, but we worked them out.”
He paused and then added ‘There wasn’t too much bull was there?’
General Mark Clark finished his remarks with this amusing incident:
“It was a beautiful day in New York and as I walked along Fifth Avenue I realized somebody had been right behind me for blocks and I was curious, when finally the red light stopped my march, I was relieved to see a little old lady come up along side of me and smile and say ‘pardon my intruding on your privacy but I’ve admired you for many years.’ And I said ‘well thank you very much…. you make my day perfect and so on.’ The green light came and as I started to cross she said ‘and God bless you Senator Kefauver’.”
General Mark Clark died in 1984 at the age of 88