Honoring a Navy vet's heroism, 66 years later

Carl Clark
Carl Clark
CBS News

It was a long wait. Way too long, in fact.

However, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports that a grateful nation finally gave a hero his due on Tuesday, and made an injustice made right.

In the naval battles of the Second World War, there were many acts of heroism. But what Carl Clark did wasn't recognized until today. Sixty-six years late he was awarded a medal for distinguished service in combat by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Clark is now 95 years old. He lived the first half of his life in a nation where racism was written into the rules.

"In 1936, when I joined the Navy, a black man could be nothing but a servant for white officers," Clark said.

In May, 1945, he was on the destroyer Aaron Ward when it came under attack by Japanese Kamikaze pilots. He was on fire fighting duty with 7 others.

"First plane hit, wiped out all of these guys, all of the seven men. I was the only one left," Clark said.

Injured and alone, he put out every fire, keeping the ruined ship afloat as it was hit by six kamikazes.

"I don't think it was courage. I don't know what it was," Clarks said. "The captain had told me, the next day after the battle, 'Clark, I want to thank you for saving my ship.' He told me that. But they made out the battle report, they didn't even put my name in the battle report."

Clarks said the reason for that is obvious: "Because I was a black man."

Clark figures the Navy just couldn't admit that a ship full of white sailors was saved by a black steward.

Two years ago, a local congresswoman took Clarks case to the Pentagon. Now, sixty-six years later, he was awarded his medal for distinguished service in combat.

Clark says it's for all those black sailors whose bravery went unrecognized.

Clark gets emotional when talking about all those men hr knre who went down on all those other ships, fellow heroes who did not live to see America change.

  • John Blackstone
    John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.