Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip P. Clark

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip P. Clark, 19, of Gainesville, Fla.

LCpl Clark was assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died May 18, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Between the disbelief that it could happen and the overwhelming grief that it did happen, Lance Cpl. Philip Clark's family said Friday that they are trying to come to terms with his death.

Clark, 19, a 2008 graduate of Buchholz High School, died in Afghanistan earlier this week in circumstances that remain under investigation by military officials.

Relatives said he was hit in the legs by shrapnel Tuesday while on patrol in Marjah. He was pronounced dead a short time later at a trauma center. "He died doing what he wanted to do - what he believed in," said Clark's father, Mike Clark.

Philip Clark's drive to become a member of the Marine Corps became obvious during his senior year of high school, when he dropped out of football to focus on preparing for boot camp at Parris Island, his parents said Friday. "He would put weights in his backpack and then go out for a run," Mike Clark said. "He trained like that because he did not want to be the one lagging behind during basic training."

Clark's stepbrother, Tyler Nordyke, who is five days older than Philip, said, "He always wanted to be at the front - he wanted to be leading the charge. I couldn't see him being anything but career military."

Stepmother Tammy Clark recalled how eager Philip was to be deployed.

"He couldn't wait to get to Afghanistan and there were several delays for his unit, but once Obama announced the troop surge, he knew he would be going and he wanted to be there," Tammy Clark said.

Clark's widow, Ashton Clark, 19, of San Antonio, Texas, was expecting the man she married in October to be back home by July. The couple were married in a Texas courthouse after a whirlwind courtship and planned to have a big celebration when Philip completed his overseas tour of duty.

"Philip always talked about (his death) as a possibility," she said.

The couple were introduced by a mutual acquaintance and began corresponding over the Internet and by phone on July 4, 2009. They were married Oct. 12. It was a marriage that Mike and Tammy Clark said they were initially concerned about, because the bride and groom were both 19 and had known each other for such a short time.

"When we met her, we got it - she was perfect for him," said Mike Clark.

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip P. Clark and his wife, Ashton, were making big plans for his return from Afghanistan this summer.

“We had a lot of plans and wanted kids. He wanted to have a baby as soon as he got home, and we were talking about that,” she said. “He wanted a girl, and we were going to name her Olivia Marie.”

The Clarks were a very young couple, married in a simple courthouse ceremony with a pair of Marine buddies at their side but sure of where they were headed and so close to each other they could finish each other's sentences.

But their future ended Tuesday when Clark, 19, of Gainesville, Fla., was killed by a mine while on patrol in Marjah.

Ashton Clark, 19, of San Antonio said late Wednesday that his death still was difficult to fathom even after she watched six Marines carry her husband's flag-draped transfer case off a jet at Dover AFB, Del., earlier in the afternoon.

“I can't really still believe it, kind of still in denial,” conceded Clark, a San Antonio native and 2009 graduate of Clark High School. “I just couldn't believe he was inside there.”

The Clarks are waiting for Ashton to arrive in Gainesville over the weekend to finalize military funeral plans. Williams-Thomas Funeral Homes will be handling the arrangements, which are expected to include a Mass at Queen of Peace Catholic Church followed by internment at a national cemetery in about a week.

Clark's decision to enlist in the military continued a family tradition. His paternal grandfather is retired Air Force Col. Lawrence Clark Sr. of Gainesville, and Philip Clark had two paternal uncles who served in the Air Force.

In addition to his family ties to the Air Force, Philip Clark was active in the Air Force JROTC at Buchholz and easily could have been expected to enlist in the Air Force, but chose the Marines.

"He never backed down - he'd be the smallest guy on the football field and would never back down and that's why he chose the Marines," Mike Clark said. "They are the first ones into the fight. They lead the way and go right up the middle and that is what he wanted ... to be the best and the first."

While in basic training, Philip Clark qualified as a sharpshooter, relying on weaponry skills learned as a Boy Scout and honed while visiting his maternal grandfather.

Clark spent many school breaks and summer vacations with his Morris "Paw Paw" Horn in Mississippi and learned to love hunting with him, Mike Clark said.

While the Clark family in Gainesville waits for Ashton to arrive, they have also been remembering the young man who they say always tried to make everyone smile or laugh.

"He had the ability to make people laugh in tense situations," Tammy Clark said. "He would just know the right things to say to get everyone to loosen up."

While attending middle and high school together, Clark and Tyler often had classes together.

"The teachers would hate him and love him at the same time because he was always respectful but he also joked around," Tyler said. "Sometimes it would be real quiet in class and then Philip would make a bird sound. It would make everyone laugh."

There was one topic that never inspired humor in Philip Clark.

"He was extremely patriotic," Tammy Clark said.

"If he saw someone protesting the military on television, he would get so upset that - even if it was 100 degrees outside - he would put on his running shoes and go out for a run to blow of steam," Mike Clark said. "He loved being an American, and he loved being a Marine."

His services are scheduled for Friday in Gainesville, and his body is being transported to Jacksonville on Thursday. He will be buried with full military honors at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

The Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, will fly overhead when Clark’s body arrives in Jacksonville in the “Missing Man Formation,” Horn said.

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip P. Clark was killed in action on 5/18/10.

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