GHENT—Local author Mark Clarke listened to the stories his father told of his time in service in the United States Army in World War II. It sparked his imagination. Mr. Clarke is also a veteran, having enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, serving in an airborne infantry regiment in Europe.
His newly published book is titled “Columbia: Those Who Served.” It’s a compilation of biographies of veterans of military service who have been honored in the 20 years of the Columbia County Honor a Veteran Program inaugurated by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors in 2000. Mr. Clarke was one of the original committee members tasked with reviewing nominees for this recognition.
“I would interview the nominators and do the research,”Mr. Clarke said. The only two criteria were that the nominee served honorably and was deceased by 30 days.”
Though not quantifiable criteria, Mr. Clarke spoke of the importance for him of a veteran’s contribution to the community in their civilian roles. They may be decorated combat veterans, “but also that they had provided some service to their community,” he said. “Somebody like Ben Murrell, who did so many things; he was a county supervisor and also ran the little league.”
“They came back and dedicated their lives to service of families and communities,” he said. He pointed out that “a couple of guys became sheriffs.”
He listed some of the other names in the book, including: Hudson native Charles Cunningham, who fought under Major Reno in the battle of the Little Big Horn and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; John Wesley Blunt of Stuyvesant who, as first lieutenant, led the charge at Cedar Creek, Virginia, that stopped the Confederates there and who was also awarded the Medal of Honor. Lt. Blunt returned to a life of civic activity in Chatham.
Mr. Clarke noted Frank Fratellenico, who graduated from Chatham High School and as a soldier in Vietnam, threw his body on a live grenade to save the lives of his comrades at the cost of his own.
The book contains five Medal of Honor recipients.
And there were others cited by Mr. Clarke. Clifford Johnson’s entry was updated a week before print deadline for the author. Cpl. Johnson was at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea in 1951. He was listed as missing in action until this spring when his remains were identified. Other veterans identified in the book include: Fred Potts, who became a state trooper, Harpy Shea, Fred Stark and Donald Johnson of Philmont.
One other point Mr. Clarke wanted to stress is the significance of the American flag as a symbol.
“People who haven’t served don’t understand,” he said. “When I was a paratrooper the flag was here, he said pointing to his uniform. The flag was a rally point; literally you went to where the flag was.”
“When it comes to race, sex, ethnicity, you are all equal,” he added.
“We all served together, we don’t have a problem. We used to say there is only one color in the Army and that is OD [olive drab] Green,” Mr. Clarke said.
“In summary,” he said, “this book is a local history document. It is only a sample of the thousands who served from Columbia County in defense of state and community. Their greatest legacy is that they built this community to what it is today, and it is a beautiful community; those people and their ancestors made it such.”
Requirements for eligibility for the Honor a Veteran Program are that a candidate must have resided in Columbia County, served in the Armed Forces of the United States, was honorably discharged or died in service or was declared missing in action, and must be 30 days or more deceased.
Biographical entries in the book include veterans from the Revolutionary War to recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The book is published by CCE Publishing of Edgewater, FL.