Tags: Government & News & Crime, Johns Creek
Local resident recalls being pallbearer at JFK funeral
|Hugh Clark, who served as a pallbearer for U.S. President John F. Kennedy, moved to Johns Creek in May of 2010. SPECIAL. (click for larger version)|
|Clark is pictured here at the upper left of the coffin in a U.S. Navy uniform. www.arlingtoncemetery.net. (click for larger version)|
February 02, 2011Johns Creek -- Despite discouragement from his father, Hubert "Hugh" Clark wasted no time signing up for the Navy upon graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City at the ripe age of 17. In 1962, it wasn't that unlikely that a young man would make this choice. With two brothers also serving, Clark felt drawn to the allure of representing his country.
Clark, now a resident at Jim Chapman Communities Brookhaven in Johns Creek, remembers tussling with his father about the decision until the older man finally relented and agreed to sign him up. At that time, both had no way of knowing that just a few months later, Clark would play a role in one of the most memorable events to ever happen in United States' history.
"I didn't want to be a statistic," said Clark, recalling why he wanted to be a part of the military. "A lot of the kids that I grew up were joining gangs and getting into trouble. I needed to do something productive with my life."
After initially considering a career in technology in the military, Clark was asked if he was interested in going to Washington D.C. to pursue quite a different path. Reluctant at first, Clark finally agreed, because he would be closer to home. Wasting no time impressing his peers, Clark was elected honor man of his company, and shortly thereafter was asked to join the Presidential Honor Guard. Within months, he had also become a pallbearer in the ceremonial unit.
"My functions included marching in military parades, welcoming dignitaries when they arrived at the White House, as well as presiding over burials at Arlington National Cemetery," said Clark. "I buried thousands of people. To be honest, I can't remember how many."
There was one, however, that he and America will never forget, the burial of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
When discussing the events surrounding the night Kennedy was assassinated, the vivid details come pouring back into Clark's mind like it took place yesterday.
"We were up in the barracks, and I was pressing my dress blues thinking I would be going home for Thanksgiving. When it came on the TV that President Kennedy was shot, we were all in shock. Everyone was restricted to the base," said Clark.
Clark describes that day as gloomy, almost like having an eclipse, where the moon covers the sun and everything just goes dark.
"As a young man, you hear about assassinations, but you never associate it with you," he said. "After the assassination, everyone started preparing, because we knew we would be participating in some way."
He didn't have to wait long to hear how he would be involved.
"I got a call from my lieutenant commander, who was in charge of the honor guard," Clark said. "He told me to pick one other man and to get ready to go to Andrews Air Force Base to pick up the remains of President Kennedy."
Leaving the base, Clark recalls "scary, empty" streets. With everyone home in front of their TVs watching the news, it took Clark and those traveling to the base just minutes to arrive.
As their car pulled in, Clark said that there was sense of foreboding as Air Force One taxied up the runway. With the Navy ambulance now on the scene, it was Clark and five other soldiers' responsibility to remove the casket from Air Force One into the ambulance so that the body could be taken to the hospital for an official autopsy.
"I remember seeing Jackie (Kennedy) step out of the plane," said Clark. "She had not changed her clothes, and I could see blood all over her pink suit. It was a very sad moment as we lifted the bronze casket and placed it into the ambulance."
Upon placing Kennedy's remains in the vehicle, Clark and the other men boarded a helicopter that shadowed the casket as the ambulance drove to Bethesda Memorial Hospital so that an autopsy could be performed. Upon arriving, Clark recalls photographers pushing their way toward the casket.
"As soon the ambulance pulled up, they rushed us," he said. "The ambulance took off, and we drove around for what seemed like an hour until we could find a way to remove the remains."
During the autopsy, Clark and the five other men were instructed to remain outside the morgue. Clark said he remembers Jackie Kennedy walk in to the morgue. With a quick turn of his head, he recalls seeing the president lying motionless on a table, almost like he was sleeping.
"A picture you never want to see," Clark would say later.
The next few days, Clark's job was to remain with the casket at it traveled from the hospital to the White House, Capitol Rotunda and later Arlington Cemetery.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that the president wasn't actually buried in the bronze casket," Clark said. "When it came off the plane, it was so beat up that a mahogany one was used instead. I remember how heavy it was; it felt like a million pounds."
When everyone had finally cleared the gravesite following the funeral, Clark recalls giving one last salute to the president, a moment he said he will never forget.
Following his four-and-a-half years in the military, Clark went on to become an investigator with the United Nations and later a police officer with the New York City Police Department. After retiring from the NYPD, Clark went back to school and become a certified drug and alcohol counselor. He later served as the vice president of residential services for a drug and alcohol rehab center in Stamford, Conn. He officially retired in July 2008.
In May 2010, Clark purchased a home at Jim Chapman Communities' Brookhaven at Johns Creek Community. He calls the community "his family," saying he feels more comfortable now than he ever did in his previous home.