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Stories of service: Gerry Clark of Northampton

  • Letters sent home from Gerry Clark and photos of him during his time in the Vietnam War in an exhibit at the Hatfield Historic Museum. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A photo of Gerry Clark during his time in the Vietnam War. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gerry Clark talks about his time in the Vietnam War at the Hatfield Historical Museum. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gerry Clark talks about his time in the Vietnam War at the Hatfield Historical Museum. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gerry Clark talks about his time in the Vietnam War at the Hatfield Historical Museum. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A photo of Gerry Clark during his time in the Vietnam War. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gerry Clark talks about his time in the Vietnam War at the Hatfield Historical Museum. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gerry Clark talks about his time in the Vietnam War at the Hatfield Historical Museum. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Gerry Clark talks about his time in the Vietnam War at the Hatfield Historical Museum. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS


Friday, November 10, 2017

In early 1966, Gerry Clark’s family got the phone call they had been waiting for: Clark, who had been on a waiting list, would be able to join the National Guard. However, the call came too late. Clark was not at his Northampton home, but in his third week of U.S. Army basic training, having been drafted to fight in Vietnam. 

Clark, now 71, of Leeds, is the veterans’ services officer in Hatfield. He served just under two years with the Army’s 9th Infantry Division, seeing a year of combat. When he was drafted, his family had hoped that something would come up and he wouldn’t have to go. None of his family members had served, and he had two older brothers who received draft deferments. Clark, however, accepted the situation. 

“You didn’t expect it that soon, but you knew that it was your obligation,” Clark said, sitting in front of an exhibit displaying his uniform and photos from Vietnam at the Hatfield Historical Museum.

Before being drafted, Clark worked for a phone company in Springfield, a job he had left Springfield Technical Community College — and therefore his chance of a deferment — to work. Knowing his background, the Army put Gerry in an infantry unit as his company commander’s radio operator.

“It was the person you see in the movies with the little antenna flipping over his head,” Clark said. “You made the communications between the company commander and platoons and other radio operators with the higher-ups and the battalion, calling in airstrikes or medevacs.” 

Clark worked closely with his company commander, Captain Daniel Monahan, while engaging enemy troops in the area of the Mekong Delta. The two developed a bond. One of Clark’s most prized possessions is the Combat Infantryman Badge that Monahan pinned on him after his first combat experience. 

Clark has a picture of the moment Monahan awarded him the badge, and carries both the badge and picture with him frequently. 

“When he pinned it on my chest he said, ‘wear this proudly, because you’ve earned it, but I also want you to wear it for those who earned it, but will never wear it,’” Clark said, holding up the picture. “Captain Monahan died two weeks later.” 

This year, for Veterans Day, Clark is traveling with his wife to Washington, D.C. to attend the rededication ceremony of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Clark went to the original ceremony in 1982, and has gone back every five years to pay his respects to Captain Monahan, four others from his company who died and the other 58,000 service members whose names are on the wall.

“Every name has a mother, a father, a family,” Clark said.

Clark normally goes to Veterans Day ceremonies in Hatfield and Northampton. To him, Veterans Day should be a positive day, even when visiting graves or memorials. 

“I look at it as more of a lighthearted day as opposed to Memorial Day. Take time to say thank you to veterans, whether they were in combat or not. You should be able to walk up and say, ‘Happy Veterans Day and thank you,’” Clark said. 

Having experienced the protests and negative reception of soldiers returning from Vietnam, Clark is grateful to hear civilians thank him for his service. He also takes the time to give his thanks to those men and women who have served, knowing what it means to them. 

“Those veterans at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and the VA hospital, those are the people you really want to say thank you to,” Clark said. “Veterans Day should be an important day.”