After 42 years, hero comes home

Area veterans and citizens stood at the Bucktail Plaza in St. Marys on a cold and rainy Thursday afternoon to pay their respects to United States Air Force Major Thomas Clark, an Emporium native shot down by enemy fire over Laos in February 1969, as he was escorted home to Emporium for a public visitation, funeral services and interment. Area citizens, veterans and veterans' organizations stood at the plaza, with the servicemen saluting and many of the residents holding aloft American flags, as the Pennsylvania State Police and a hearse carrying Clark's remains pulled in to the plaza to convene with members of the motorcycle escort group Patriot Guard Riders and others waiting to continue the journey with the major to Emporium. Those present to pay homage to Clark included members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 948; VVA Bucktail Chapter 720; St. Marys Servicemen's Burial Detail; Johnsonburg-Wilcox Servicemen's Detail; Fox Township Servicemen's Burial Detail; American Legion Post 103 in St. Marys; American Legion Post 511 in Dagus Mines; American Legion Post 978 in Bennetts Valley; Johnsonburg American Legion Post 501; Veterans of Foreign Wars; volunteer groups Rides4Vets and Letters From Home ; Elk County Commissioners; and State Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Clearfield/Elk. Rides4Vets also rode in the procession escorting the major to Emporium. A Cameron County High School football star, Air Force Academy graduate and avid hunter and outdoorsman, Clark's remains were recently confirmed and returned to the United States following extensive investigations of the crash site where his plane was shot down by enemy fire on Feb. 8, 1969 over Laos. According to his obituary, on that date Clark, at that time a captain, was flying an an F-100D Super Sabre, of 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 37th Tactical Fight Wing, in a flight of four mission over Laos. The flight, controlled by an F-4 Forward Air Controller, engaged a 23mm Anti-Aircraft Artillery battery, and Clark's aircraft was hit by rounds from the artillery battery, then burst into flames and crashed. The Air Force designated him as Killed in Action (KIA) and posthumously promoted him to the rank of major