Bill Clarke never served in the military, but he has boxes full of World War II memorabilia.
Clarke’s brother, Richard, was 23 — 10 years older than Bill — in 1944. The Clarke family had moved from Toledo to New Mexico by then, and Richard had joined the National Guard after graduating from high school. He left the National Guard for the Army Air Corps.
Richard was being trained to be a bombardier when he was sent overseas to fight the Japanese, but he never made it home.
Bill Clarke, now 78, lives in Oregon with his wife, Mary. Bill has collected his brother’s service medals, schoolboy records and tons of family photos. What he doesn’t have is Richard Clarke’s military Purple Heart.
Last December the Department of Defense announced it expanded its Purple Heart eligibility criteria, allowing prisoners of war who died in captivity to receive the award.
Bill is the last surviving member of his family, and thus would be the recipient of his older brother’s Purple Heart. Bill’s parents, Mildred and Melvin Clarke, died about three years after their son was captured by the Japanese, and his sister, Grace, is also deceased.
“My dad was writing letters all over, trying to find out what happened to my brother,” Bill said.
Richard’s unit was using machine guns to fight the Japanese at Monkey Point in the Philippines when, Bill said, “they ran out of bullets.”
“General McArthur told them to surrender in the Philippines on April 13, 1944,” Bill said. “We did not hear from (Richard) for about a year before he was declared missing in action. We knew a lot of prisoners were taken. After a year we got a Japanese prisoner of war index card and my brother had checked a box on the card saying he was well.”
Bill said Richard was one of thousands of U.S. soldiers put on Japanese prison ships that took prisoners of war to “work” camps.
“A couple of the ships were torpedoed by our Navy,” Bill said. “One of the men who was with him on this prison ship said that they don’t know whether the Japanese killed him on the ship and threw him overboard, or he died of suffocation. It was in the hands of the Japanese.
“I talked to one of the men, Dean McCall, who was on Monkey Point fighting the Japanese and who was in the Japanese Death March. He told me that he and Dick were fighting the Japanese on Monkey Point, but Dean lost contact with my brother because he was put in a different concentration camp.”
Bill spoke with U.S. military record keepers more than a decade ago, and he was given information about his brother. But the Clarke family never received an official death certificate, or Richard’s body.
“In Manila, they have a cross with my brother’s name on it, like they do at Arlington National Cemetery,” Bill said. “They have a plaque in Albuquerque, N.M., with his name on it, too.”
According to some of the military records Bill gathered, Sgt. Richard Stalker Clarke died on Oct. 12, 1944. He is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio, Manila, Philippines.
Dan Foote, a veterans representative in Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur’s office, is helping Bill secure Richard’s Purple Heart. There is plenty of room for the medal in Bill Clarke’s box of memorabilia.
“I didn’t have a brother to play ball with or shoot baskets with,” Bill said, adding that getting Richard’s Purple Heart “would be closure to the story on my brother. I can take that cardboard box and file it away.”