John F. Clark
U. S. Army Air Forces
WWII US Military
Dates of Service: 03/17/1945 - 5/1/1945
P-51 pilot, 352nd Fighter Group
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Born in Watova, Oklahoma, John saw old and new transportation meet around his home and his father's work. He was born in a railroad section house as the son of a railroad man. The family had automobiles, he recalls, but also raised horses and mules for sale. John entered Centenary College where he played football. A large young man, he also worked as a bouncer at the rooftop nightclub of the Washington Hotel. John graduated from Centenary in 1940 and was drafted on March 17, 1941 for the Coast Guard. He transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps. He claims he flew the first P-51 Mustang in Meridian, Mississippi. By February of 1944 John was assigned to the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, based in Bodney, England. He named his plane, "Louisiana Lady." His squadron escorted bombers, meeting them above Brussels, Belgium, and accompanying them to their targets. On June 6, 1944, John flew over the English Channel and looked down on the Allied armada headed for D-Day at Normandy. "They were so thick, I don't see how they moved," he recalls. He says he strafed and bombed "anything that was German," that day, helping to keep reinforcements away from the invasion forces. John flew "thirty, thirty-five missions" from April to September 1944. Then, on September 23, 1944, with three other P-51s, he was flying in support of Operation Market Garden when a German FW-190 attacked the group. Shot through the leg, and with his engine burning, John bailed out and was quickly captured near Calcar, Germany. The pilots of the other planes were killed in the incident. After treatment in a German hospital he was sent to Stalag Luft 3 on the German/Poland border. He says he lost "fifty to sixty pounds" as a prisoner of war. "We spent all of our time mainly trying to live and keep our health," he recalls. He tried to eat everything he was given, which he describes as "dehydrated vegetables with worms." Meanwhile, he helped dig a tunnel through which many escaped. The movie, "The Great Escape" was based on this incident. John was liberated on April 29, 1945. Discharged in May of 1945 as a captain, he began his business career on October 1, 1945, in insurance. He still owns the company he founded.