Monday, May 30, 2011

1945 Plane Crash in Bovina - Update

In my April 29 blog, I reported on the crash of a military training airplane in the area of Bramley Mountain that took place just days before the end of World War II in Europe.  Since that entry, I have found further information on the pilot - and an error that needs to be noted.

Robert Bragg Clark was born August 9, 1923 in Holdrege, Nebraska, the son of Charles M. and his wife Frances.  He grew up in Nebraska and graduated from Holdrege High School in June 1941, where he had been a member of the National Honor Society, the Debate Team and was in the band.  Clark also was class valedictorian. He was not from a farming family - he was noted for doing small maintenance jobs to supplement the family income, including work on telephone and telegraph lines. Clark's high school classmates, during their 50th reunion in 1991, remembered him as a hard worker with a positive outlook on life.  They expected great things from him.

After winning state recognition for his debating talents, Robert Clark came to the attention of Nebraska's U.S. Senator, George Norris, who appointed him to the United States Military Academy at West Point.  At the time of his entrance on July 15, 1942, he was tall and slim (6 feet, 2 inches and 162 pounds).  Assigned to Company A-1, he became a corporal in October 1943 and was promoted to sergeant in September 1944.  While at the Military Academy, Clark participated in intramural soccer, swimming, lacrosse and squash.  In the spring of 1944, he began training as a student pilot, training in Texas for two months then completing his basic training at Stewart Field in Newburgh in March 1945.  To prepare for graduation, Air Cadets had to accelerate their academic schedule and undergo 60 days of intensive flying to receive their wings on graduation day.  At the time of the plane crash, Clark had 141 hours of flight experience and was close to having enough hours to get his wings.  His training had included 14 hours of flying at night, but he seems to have had barely an hour of experience flying on instruments.  This, along with the very poor weather conditions on April 29, may explain why the accident happened.

The cadet corps was shocked by Clark's death, only five weeks before graduation. In his Cadet Service Record is the following order:

West Point, NY, 1 May 1945

General orders, No. 10,

     It is the sad duty of the Superintendent to announce the death of the late AIR CADET ROBERT BRAGG CLARK, C-1867, a member of the First Class United States Military Academy, whose death occurred as the result of an aviation training accident near Bloomville, New York, on 29 April 1945 while engaged in an authorized aerial flight from Stewart Field, U.S.M.A., Newburgh, New York

     The late CADET CLARK, a resident of Holdrege, Nebraska, was born in that community on 9 August 1923.  Prior to his admission at the United States Military Academy on 15 July 1942, as a qualified candidate appointed by Senator George W. Norris of Nebraska, the late CADET CLARK had attended the Holdrege High School, Holdrege, Nebraska, from 1937 until 1941, graduating there from and receiving a high school diploma. 

     While at the United States Military Academy, CADET CLARK was an excellent student, standing well in his class and demonstrating a particular proficiency in the academic subjects of mathematics, physics, mechanics, chemistry, electricity, history and government.  He participated in lacrosse, soccer and swimming and was active in those sports while at the United States Military Academy.

     CADET CLARK was in all respects a most estimable young gentleman and a credit to the Corps of Cadets.  In his unfortunate and untimely death the United States Military Academy and the Army Air Forces have suffered a distinct loss.  His courageous death in line of duty and in time of war is most regrettable and is deeply mourned. 

     In conveying my sincere condolences to the bereaved next of kin and to the family and friends of the late CADET CLARK, I am joined by the Commandant of Cadets, by the Commanding Officer at Stewart Field, and by all officers, cadets and enlisted personnel of this command.

                                                                                 F.B. Wilby, Major General, U.S.A.,Superintendent

In an obituary written many years later by Clark's roommates and published in the USMA Alumni magazine, The Assembly, in 1993, they more simply stated "We lost a friend and roommate!"

The error I need to note is the statement in my previous blog that Clark was from Norton, Kansas.  Almost all the newspapers reporting the crash made this statement, but information from his cadet file that I received from the USMA archives and in the alumni magazine clearly state he was from Holdrege, Nebraska.  Some of the papers said that Clark's father, Charles M. Clark, was from Norton, which was true.  As the information circulated around, it appears some papers made the assumption that Cadet Clark also was from Norton.  Clark's father appears to have been moving around.  He was a grain dealer in Boone, Iowa when his son joined the academy in 1942.

I would like to close this entry with a photograph - this is Cadet Robert Bragg Clark from the 1945 Howitzer, the USMA yearbook.  And here is the brief bio that accompanied the picture: "West Point was like a new strange world to Bob when he first entered. He was never one to complain. He took things as they came, for to be disheartened was not part of his nature. His cheerfulness in everything he did won him many lifetime friends. Bob was a very conscientious worker but had no intentions of setting aflame the academic world. Cheerful, efficient, generous, loyal, Bob was a good wife [ie., roommate] and a better man. Good luck to you Bob, in your Army career."

Clark was buried in the cemetery at West Point on May 2, a bright spring day, with all of his cadet company in attendance.  Though he did not die in combat, his death was in the service of his country.  So it seems appropriate to remember him on Memorial Day.

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