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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

ISU honors MIA Vietnam pilot

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Davenport soldier missing in action for nearly 42 years in Vietnam will no longer be missing from an Iowa State University war memorial.

Warrant Officer Jerry Prosper Clark was 25 when his observation plane went down after he reported engine problems on Dec. 15, 1965. He was reported missing in action after his body wasn't found. His status was changed to missing and presumed dead in 1973.

Clark was stationed in Vietnam for only three months before his plane went down, but he had time to write to the local Jaycees asking them to provide toys for more than 100 Vietnamese orphans, according to an article in the Davenport Times Democrat that reported him missing.

Toys were sent to Clark's unit, the 586th Signal Company. Clark also wrote in his letter that his unit would build a kitchen for the orphanage.

Jim Olberding, a Vietnam veteran and ISU graduate, recently re-checked a list of Iowa MIAs and discovered Clark attended ISU for one year.

Clark's name will be added to the university's Gold Star Hall at a ceremony in November on the campus in Ames. Ahead of that, university staff are trying to learn about the Davenport man and locate family members to invite to the ceremony.

Olberding found Clark but is frustrated that he can't find any of Clark's family.

"Everyone else I've been able to find a living next of kin," Olberding said. "Eventually, you can find anybody if you put your nose to the grindstone."

Seeking help, Kathy Svec, marketing director of Iowa State Memorial Union, wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the Quad-City Times.

"If there is still family living in the Davenport area, or classmates, we would love to have someone come to Ames and speak for him at the ceremony," Svec said. "We would love to find someone who knew him."

She found George Chapman of Buford, Ga., who was in the same flight school class with Clark at Fort Rucker in Alabama. He provided Svec with a photo of the graduating class and a roster. He explained that he is easy to spot next to Clark, the only black man in the class.

"It is such an honor that they want to try and do something for Jerry," Chapman said. "He was special, and he was special to me, too."

Chapman recalled going to movies with Clark in nearby Ozark, where they watched from the balcony because, in 1964, the theater was segregated. After they graduated, Chapman went to South Korea, while Clark was assigned to Vietnam.

Chapman, who later trained to fly helicopters, heard ugly but unconfirmed rumors about what might have happened to Clark after his plane went down. He went to Vietnam as a helicopter gunship pilot.

"I sort of had vengeance in my heart," Chapman recalled. "I went over there for him to get vengeance. That is not good."

The Dec. 17, 1965, Times Democrat story reporting Clark missing lists his parents, a grandmother and a wife living in Davenport. Two brothers, one who was in the U.S. Navy at the time, and another who was a former U.S. Marine, were not in the area.

Clark attended Dubuque College as well as ISU.

On Dec. 15, 1965, Clark was flying an observation plane when it experienced engine trouble. He radioed his base, and a nearby helicopter pilot found the crash site in shallow water just off a beach. The pilot didn't see a body or any person.

A memorial bearing Clark's name is located at National Cemetery on Arsenal Island. Clark's remains haven't been found.

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