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A life of service… World War II veteran and POW John Clark honored with bridge dedication

BY NIC MILLER
STAR CORRESPONDENT

When you drive across a bridge in East Tennessee, odds are that there is signage honoring a special person or group who contributed greatly to that region. Signs like these can be found in all parts of Carter County, and on Thursday morning another bridge was dedicated to a very special member of the community.

This newly dedicated bridge can be found at the intersection of Gap Creek Road and Southside Road in west Elizabethton and pays homage to a man who crossed it almost daily, World War II veteran SSGT. John R. Clark.

Clark grew up in Carter County about a half-mile from the bridge and was a graduate of Happy Valley High School. Soon after his graduation, Clark joined the U.S. Army in the fight against tyranny in the Second World War.

Clark was deployed to Great Britain prior to entering the war, where he would be captured as an American Prisoner of War during the German tactical surge in the Battle of the Bulge.

One experience Clark recalled from his time as a Prisoner of War was when he was loaded onto a boxcar train and on his way to the next stop, a US P-51 Mustang strafed the train and killed both the men on his left and right while leaving him uninjured. In Clark’s own words, “He was that close to spending eternity in hell.”

It was at that moment that Clark accepted Christ as his personal savior and promised the Lord that if he would deliver him from the war, then he would serve him every day for the rest of his life. And the Lord had delivered on his promise, bringing Clark home safely, so it was now his turn to live up to his end of the promise.

Many years after coming home from the war, Clark had become a Gideon representing the Gideon Organization and spoke at almost every church in Johnson and Carter counties. Along with this, Clark also served the Gideon Organization by handing out Bibles and New Testaments to the public in an effort to draw them closer to the Lord.

Clark was also a very important member of Southside Christian Church, serving as a Deacon, Elder, Sunday School Teacher, Sunday School Superintendent, and a strong supporter of the church.

Clark also made it a point to serve his community, serving as the chairman of the Carter County Planning Commission and the Elizabethton Electric Board, while also being a member of the Tax Equalization Board and President of the Elizabethton Lions Club.

Clark’s record as a POW is memorialized in the United States Congressional Record, a record entered by First District Congressman James H. Quillen. 

With all that Clark had done for his God, his country, and his community, it was only right for the City of Elizabethton to recognize and honor by naming the bridge on Southside Road crossing Gap Creek Road SSGT. John R. Clark Memorial Bridge.

Many members of Clark’s family and of the community attended the bridge dedication ceremony, and there was no lack of words that could be said about the selfless American Hero.

Clark’s son, John Clark Jr., said, “This means a lot to our family because dad grew up on one side of the bridge and raised the family on the other side, crossing it almost daily.”

“His God was first, his country came next, then his family, and then his community. He stood true to that, living his life to serve God and everyone else to the best of his ability.”

Another of Clark’s children, Dicky, spoke about just how humble his father really was. “Dad would probably kick our tails if he found out we were doing this for him. He did a lot for people, but he was never looking for recognition; it was out of the goodness of his heart.”

A special moment for the community of Elizabethton, there are not many better ways to show such appreciation for gentlemen like John R. Clark.