2011-11-10 / News

Island veteran remembers his World War II days

BY KEN SHANE


Francis “Tiny” Clarke stands in front of Clarke’s Boat Yard, which his family has owned and operated most of his life. The 90-year-old WWII Navy vet was aboard the USS Hall when it escorted President Roosevelt to the Tehran Conference in 1943. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Francis “Tiny” Clarke stands in front of Clarke’s Boat Yard, which his family has owned and operated most of his life. The 90-year-old WWII Navy vet was aboard the USS Hall when it escorted President Roosevelt to the Tehran Conference in 1943. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Francis “Tiny” Clark has lived in Jamestown for nearly 80 years. “I like to be called Tiny,” Clark laughed. “My mother hung that on me when I was pretty young.”

The 90-year-old Navy veteran spent his early childhood in Matunuck and Jerusalem, R.I., before moving to the island in 1932. Clark attended the Jamestown public schools before going to Rogers High School in Newport.

After graduating from high school, Clark enrolled at the University of Rhode Island. World War II broke out before he could finish his first year, and Clark left school to enlist in the U.S. Navy.

Early in his naval career, Clark served as a gunner’s mate on the USS Hall, a destroyer that protected Allied shipping convoys from the deadly German U-Boats in the Atlantic Ocean. One of those missions involved accompanying the battleship USS Iowa as it carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Tehran, Iran, for a conference with two other Allied leaders, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill.

While the president was at the conference, Clark’s ship spent time patrolling the east coast of Africa, and instructing British offi cers in gunnery. After about a month, the USS Hall was part of the convoy that escorted Roosevelt back to the United States.

The USS Hall was then ordered to the Pacific. Clark was aboard as the ship transited the Panama Canal and arrived in Pearl Harbor in January 1944. It wasn’t long before the USS Hall left Hawaii to participate in the invasion and occupation of the Marshall Islands.

For more than a year, Clark and his shipmates saw a lot of action in the Southwest Pacific. Their job was to protect landing craft as Allied invasion forces invaded island after island in their campaign to defeat Japanese forces.

Clark remembers one of these invasions vividly. “Iwo Jima sticks out in my mind,” he said. “We were there for three weeks, shelling the island. Kind of a night and day process it was.”

The next stop for Allied forces was Okinawa, but Clark never made it there. He was transferred off of his ship and sent to Washington, D.C., for electric hydraulic training. All of the ships’ guns in those days were operated using electric hydraulic power. WWII ended as Clark was en route to the nation’s capitol.

Clark made his way back to Boston where he was released from the Navy, and then he headed home to Jamestown. At that time his father was running the family boat yard and Clark went to work there, as he had been before leaving for the Navy.

After a few years, Clark bought his own fishing dragger and fished for several years in the waters off the East Coast. He then sold the boat and returned to the boat yard, which was always there for him in between other pursuits.

“It seemed like I was going back to the boat yard between times that I was fishing,” Clark said. “I bought a boat, fished for awhile, went back to the yard again, and bought another boat and fished that for four or five years.”

One of the more interesting jobs that Clark had during this time period was operating a training torpedo retriever for the Navy for a couple of years. “The torpedo retriever used to run and pick up the torpedoes after they had been fired,” Clark said. “They came to the surface and we took them aboard the retriever and brought them back to Newport.”

While working at the boat yard, Clark took a job running the Herreshoff yacht Thania during the summer months, and living in the island’s iconic Roundhouse, which, like the yacht, was owned by the Newhall family during the off season. Clark remained with Thania for more than 15 years.

After the death of his father, Clark took over the operation of the boat yard before leasing the boat yard to another operator for 12 years. Clark retired at age 62 and his children are now running the yard.

Tiny Clark is proud of his service, and his nation will demonstrate its pride in him and all of those who served with Veterans Day ceremonies across the country this week. It is an important occasion for Clark, who will attend the Jamestown ceremony.

“It’s probably the most important day of the year for me,” he said. “It means a lot to me, and my country, and everybody involved.”

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