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Honoring the heroes of Belleau Wood fight

Marine and Stafford resident Harry Clark was among the 'Devil Dogs' who fought in an iconic battle with the Germans in June 1918

The date June 6 is usually remembered for the start of the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.



Date published: 6/5/2010

But there's another June 6--exactly 26 years before D-Day--for which Gunnery Sgt. Harry Clark and his fellow Marines will always be remembered.

Clark, who trained at Quantico Marine Corps Base and lived in Stafford County, survived the Battle of Belleau Wood, which began June 6, 1918. That fight, also in France, lasted 20 days and was the first time U.S. Marines faced a battle-hardened foe--the German army.

The National Museum of the Marines Corps is memorializing the battle in one of three new galleries that opens today. Belleau Wood is a centerpiece of the World War I gallery honoring Marines like Clark, whose daughter, Mary Clark Bryant, 89, lives in southern Stafford with her husband, Ralph, who is 86.

Her father, who died in 1963, kept records and pictures of his time as a Marine, though he rarely talked with family or friends about his experiences. He served not only in the trenches of France, but in Haiti, Nicaragua and Mexico over his 32-year career.

The Bryants wanted to tell his story after reading Free Lance-Star articles last year about the museum and a film shot in Bealeton re-creating the fighting at Belleau Wood for the World War I gallery.

Ralph Bryant said he approached the museum to see if it would be interested in what they had uncovered on "Grandpa Clark," but there was little interest.

"So we started getting stuff together, and we were amazed at what we had."


Boxes of Clark's belongings, unopened for decades, contained medals, pictures, log books, mementos and diary entries--though none described the scene at Belleau Wood.

Ralph Bryant, a Stafford native who served in the Marines, and Mary, who grew up in Louisiana, met in Stafford and married in 1944. They spent months piecing together Clark's military career.

"He was really a humble man," Mary said. "He never bragged, never talked about his experiences."

She laughed, "The only thing he joked about was the kind of [doughboy] helmet they had to wear. He said it beat a bald spot on his head.

"I never knew why he joined the Marines."

Clark grew up in Nebraska. One brother was a policeman; his father and two other brothers served in the Army.

Clark enlisted in May 1911 in Seattle, serving on the USS Jupiter and in Hawaii as a cook until 1915. Among the treasure-trove of belongings found in the attic was his recipe book. Two of his specialties were fruit cake and sugar-topped pumpkin pie.

Clark was promoted to corporal, sergeant, then gunnery sergeant in 1917 at Quantico, where he helped reshape the base as a training ground for the Great War.

"They built Quantico as a French battleground, which is why [Marines] did so well. They had trenches, gas training," Ralph said. "He knew how to put on a gas mask. He knew the terrain."

Clark, 6-foot-1, a pistol expert and a Catholic who loved to cook, was assigned to 4th Brigade, 2nd Division, American Expeditionary Force. On Oct. 31, 1917, he shipped out to France aboard the USS Von Steuben.

He wrote this journal entry on Nov. 10: "At 7:15 p.m. a submarine attacked us and two torpedoes were launched but missed us."

The Von Steuben arrived in the French port of Brest on Nov. 12. His unit went to Lormont, on the outskirts of Bordeaux, then on to Charmant, about 65 miles from the front lines.


By June 1918, the Marines were nearing Chateau-Thierry, east of Paris. The forest was known as Belleau Wood.

On June 6, German machine-gunners opened fire, killing 300 Marines in the 4th Brigade within 30 minutes.

Dick Camp, a retired Marine colonel and author of "The Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood: U.S. Marines in World War I," says: "It was God-awful. The Marines of the 5th and 6th Regiments had to work their way across an open wheat field" under withering fire. It was the largest single-day loss ever for the Marine Corps.

Through subsequent battles at Soissons, Blanc Mont, St. Mihiel and the Argonne Forest in France, the Marines established themselves as worthy foes.

German soldiers called them teufelhunden, or "devil dogs," for their fierceness in battle.

Clark survived, though the family doesn't know much about his life in the trenches of Europe. One of his journals of the period has a list of names, some of them crossed out.

"I wonder whether these are men who were killed," Ralph said.

Clark received a Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal with two silver stars, and a World War I Victory Medal with three silver stars. The silver service stars on the ribbon were given for multiple achievements.


Clark served in Haiti, Mexico and Nicaragua, in what became known as the Banana Wars, before and after World War I.

During one tour of duty in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1920, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Gendarmerie D'Haiti. U.S., British and German forces entered Haiti in 1914 to protect their citizens from civil unrest.

In November and December of 1920, Clark made frequent diary entries about fighting in the city and its suburbs against armed groups:

"Dec. 1--Information rec'd that the market will be attacked at daylight."

"Dec. 6--Attacked band of 6--killed 5 & captured 2 rifles."

He flew a de Havilland reconnaissance biplane with Observation Squadron 2 in Haiti in 1925.

Clark wasn't all business. Among his mementos were a dance card from May 1925 and a program from a July 4 party with Observation Squadron 1 in Nicaragua the previous year.

Clark retired in June 1941, went back into the Marines in August 1943, then got out for good, as a warrant officer, in 1946.

He and his wife, Daisy, settled in Goldvein, then moved to a place in Stafford off U.S. 17 where they lived until he died in 1963 at age 70.

"I never saw him get angry, and he never cursed--never in our presence. Now, that's something for a Marine," Ralph said.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
Email: [email protected]