|Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware||Timekeeper for the DuPont Company|
|U.S. Army Air Forces||O-2063363|
|American||28th Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy), 19th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy)|
Early Life & Family
James Charles Clark was born in Elkton, Mayland, on November 4, 1919. He was the first child of James Marshall Clark (a carpenter, 1890–1988) and Helen Gould Clark (née Byrd, 1899–1964). The Clark family was recorded on the census on January 2, 1920, living on Main Street in Elkton. The family moved to 222 North Franklin Street in Wilmington, Delaware, prior to June 26, 1922, when Clark’s younger brother, Harlan Heath Clark (1922–1994), was born. Harlan served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
At the time of the next census, on April 4, 1930, the Clark family was living at 506 10th Street in Chester, Pennsylvania. Census records indicate that the Clark family returned to Wilmington by April 1, 1935. Clark graduated from Wilmington High School. The Clarks were recorded on the next census on April 15, 1940, living at 1216 Conrad Street. Father and son were both working for a pigment company: James M. Clark as a millwright and James C. Clark as a clerk. Clark’s mother was working as a cook at a private school.
On January 11, 1941, Journal-Every Evening announced Clark’s engagement to Helen M. McCool (1919–1988), a classmate at Wilmington High School. The couple wed at her parents’ home in Wilmington on the evening of June 14, 1941. The Wilmington Morning News reported:
A reception followed at the Hob. After a wedding trip south, Mr. Clark and his bride will live at 1608 Broom Street.
Miss Edith DiSabatino was the bride’s only attendant and Mr. Harlan H. Clark, brother of the bridegroom, was best man.
The following month, on July 1, 1941, Clark registered for the draft. He was living with his wife at 1608 North Broom Street in Wilmington and working as a timekeeper for the DuPont Company Krebs Division in Edgemoor, Delaware. The registrar described him as standing five feet, 10½ inches tall and weighing 140 lbs., with blond hair and blue eyes.
According to his wife’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Clark joined the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey, on July 13, 1943. It is unclear if he volunteered or was drafted. In most cases, voluntary enlistments ended by presidential order later in 1942. However, in some cases, due to limited training billets, a man who passed the battery of tests in order to become an aviation cadet was not called up for months.
Clark’s wife wrote that her husband began his training at the U.S. Army Air Forces Miami Beach Training Center in Florida, where he was stationed until August 25, 1943. She wrote that he continued his training as an aviation cadet at the University of Pittsburgh (August 28, 1943 – November 5, 1943). She added that he was stationed at Nashville, Tennessee, and Selman Field, Louisiana (November 1943 – July 13, 1944, apparently referring to both). After completing his training as a navigator, Clark was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces on July 13, 1944. Following two weeks of leave, he was stationed at Boca Raton, Florida (July 28, 1944 – August 28, 1944).
Clark’s wife wrote that her husband transferred to his last duty station on September 27, 1944: Great Bend Army Air Field, Kansas. Indeed, 2nd Lieutenant Clark appeared as a navigator on a roster of the 28th Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy), 19th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy), dated September 30, 1944. Helen Clark, by then pregnant with the couple’s first child, accompanied him to the base.
On November 27, 1944, Clark and his crew, a total of 12 men, took off from Great Bend at 1145 hours Central War Time on a long training flight aboard a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, serial number 42-24447. The pilot, 1st Lieutenant Eugene W. Hammond (1920–1950), had logged over 1,350 hours of flight time as lead pilot including 69½ hours flying B-29s. The B-29 flew south to the Gulf of Mexico, where the crew made several bomb runs over Freemason Island, Louisiana. After the bombing practice, the flight plan was for Clark to guide the B-29 by celestial navigation to Havana, Cuba, and then back to Kansas, a roundtrip distance of about 3,000 miles. The overall length of the mission was similar what the crew would be flying from bases in the Mariana Islands to bomb Japan in a few short months.
Around 1715 hours, some five hours and 30 minutes into the flight, a crewmember noticed the No. 1 engine (left outboard) smoking just after the plane’s third pass over Freemason Island. Within moments, the engine burst into flames. The investigation board later concluded that the fire was caused by an undetected fuel leak.
The crew responded quickly to the emergency. Lieutenant Hammond throttled down the engine and attempted to feather the propeller, but the mechanism had already been burned through. He directed his copilot to have the crew prepare to bail out. The bombardier jettisoned the remaining bombs and bomb bay fuel tanks. The flight engineer used an extinguishing system on the affected engine without success.
The B-29 was on the cutting edge of aircraft design but had been plagued by engine fires during its development. In previous incidents when the Wright R-3350 caught fire during B-29 flights, it led to the rapid failure of the spar on the affected wing.
Lieutenant Hammond quickly ordered his crew to bail out. 11 men bailed out over Breton Sound. Before Hammond could follow, the burning engine suddenly dropped from the wing, extinguishing the fire in the process. Hammond placed the aircraft on autopilot long enough to retrieve the radio facility chart and transmit a distress call, then brought the plane in for an emergency landing at Keesler Field, Mississippi, at 1730 hours.
The crew members’ parachutes functioned correctly. They were equipped with life vests as well as dye packs to increase their visibility in the water. Unfortunately, the incident occurred only a few minutes before sunset and the men were not equipped with any lights.
The search began even before Hammond landed. Multiple boats and search aircraft responded to the scene, but only three men were rescued from the water alive that night. A Consolidated OA-10 Catalina flying boat rescued the first survivor quickly, at 1810 hours. A U.S. Coast Guard boat rescued two more men shortly after midnight. At 1357 hours, nearly 21 hours after the accident, crash boat P-630 recovered Lieutenant Clark’s body roughly two miles from where the Coast Guard rescued the second and third survivors.
Clark and seven other members of his crew had drowned despite being equipped with life vests. In his report, regional safety officer, Captain Eugene W. Roddenberry (1921–1991) wrote that the bulky flight suits may have been responsible for the deaths:
It appears likely that most of the crew members believed that their clothing although water soaked, offered some protection against cold. Information at the Keesler AAF Sea Rescue School indicates that this is not the case. The failure to remove flying clothing will result in the expension [sic] of much energy to keep afloat.
Regarding Clark in particular, he continued:
It is probable that the death of the crewman found on the second day was at least partially accountable to this fact. He was found in a partially submerged condition with lungs full of water. His flying boots were still on. Probable exhaustion and drowning were listed on the autopsy report.
The crew’s actions, however, were consistent with their training. At the time, U.S.A.A.F. air crew were not trained to remove their flying clothing (except boots) in the event a plane made a water landing, and it appears they were not given different instructions for the event of a parachute descent into water. Investigators recommended that training materials be changed to explain that waterlogged flight suits would not provide warmth and should be removed in the water.
The tragic outcome was compounded by several additional factors. The crew had not been provided emergency frequencies in their briefing folders, causing a delay of several minutes in mobilizing rescuers. A rescue boat was already standing by near Freemason Island, but did not observe the crew bail out. Poor radio communication also prevented authorities from notifying the boat for 15 minutes after Hammond reported the emergency.
Perhaps the most critical problem was that two OA-10 flying boat crews made navigational errors. Although they rescued the first survivor, Corporal Ned C. Johnson, despite the errors, the search subsequently focused on the erroneous position. The OA-10s estimated that Johnson had been found about 14 miles north of the position provided by Lieutenant Hammond, which was in fact quite accurate. The flying boat that rescued Johnson also inadvertently dragged him underwater after he became entangled in a rescue rope. The rescuers managed to revive him but as a result, he was in no condition to share any information about the locations of other crew members.
After funeral services at the Mealey Funeral Home at 703 North Broom Street in Wilmington on December 4, 1944, Lieutenant Clark was buried at nearby Cathedral Cemetery.
On March 20, 1945, Helen Clark gave birth to Lieutenant Clark’s only child, a daughter, at the Memorial Hospital in Wilmington. On June 12, 1953, she remarried to David Alfred Reese (1917–1960), himself a widower. The couple had two more daughters.
Crew of B-29 42-24447 on November 27, 1944
The following list is adopted from “Army Air Forces Report of Major Accident 45-11-27-2” with grade, name, service number, position, and status. However, the list corrects several errors in the report including Rife’s and Kelly’s service numbers and the spelling of Kelly, Kennedy, and Schaeberle’s names.
1st Lieutenant Eugene W. Hammond, O-726639 (pilot) – survivor
2nd Lieutenant Edwin H. Gresham, O-771702 (copilot/aircraft commander) – died
1st Lieutenant Fred H. Bigelow, O-725047 (bombardier) – survivor
2nd Lieutenant James C. Clark, O-2063363 (navigator) – died
2nd Lieutenant John F. Kelly, O-860701 (flight engineer) – died
Captain Stacy F. Holland, O-725064 (observer) – died
Private 1st Class Robert D. Rife, 15375523 (radio operator) – died
Corporal John B. Schaeberle, 33513726 (radar operator) – died
Private 1st Class Richard H. Little, 35903370 (gunner) – died
Corporal William J. Jones, 14202825 (gunner) – survivor
Corporal Ned C. Johnson, 37224492 (gunner) – survivor
Corporal George J. Kennedy, 13187685 (gunner) – died
The OA-10 was the U.S. Army Air Forces’ version of the famous PBY Catalina flying boat.
Eugene W. Roddenberry
Captain Roddenberry, the regional safety officer, achieved enduring fame after the war as the creator of Star Trek.
Special thanks to Lieutenant Clark’s niece, Barbara Clark McDowell, and to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photos.
“2 Delaware Soldiers Die In Accidents.” Journal-Every Evening, November 29, 1944. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110140402/clark-killed-in-crash-1/
“Army Air Forces Report of Major Accident 45-11-27-2.” Reel 46449. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency. https://delawareswwiifallen.files.wordpress.com/2022/09/army-air-forces-report-of-major-accident-45-11-27-2-small.pdf
“Births.” Journal-Every Evening, March 23, 1945. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110161835/james-c-clark-daughter/
Clark, Mrs. James C. James Charles Clark Individual Military Service Record, September 1, 1945. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/18118/rec/3
Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-267-12651-63960-82, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-266-12527-26615-24
“Engaged.” Journal-Every Evening, January 11, 1941. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110142484/clark-mccool-engagement/
Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4639360_00798
Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4301036_00733
Harlan Heath Clark birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-DYQ5-H1
“Lieut. James C. Clark.” Journal-Every Evening, December 2, 1944. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110165058/clark-funeral/
Simons, Graham M. B-29: Superfortress: Giant Bomber of World War Two and Korea. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2012.
Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00552-00081
“Weddings.” Wilmington Morning News, June 17, 1941. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/110141539/clark-mccool-wedding/
WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_13_00002-01690
Last updated on November 5, 2022
More stories of World War II fallen:
To have new profiles of fallen soldiers delivered to your inbox, please subscribe below.