Four decades after he was injured by machine-gun fire during a helicopter mission in Vietnam, Sgt. Kent Clark, of Kirkland, was awarded a Purple Heart on Tuesday.
More than four decades after Sgt. Kent Clark’s helicopter was hit with heavy machine-gun fire in Vietnam, he has been awarded a Purple Heart for injuries to his knee during the mission.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Clark, 66, of Kirkland, holding his long-awaited medal Tuesday morning.
The Nov. 21, 1969, mission that wounded Clark, who was serving as a door gunner, remains vivid in his mind.
“I still remember the exact coordinates,” Clark said, recalling the big red bullets flying toward his helicopter and cutting its hydraulic lines. “I don’t know how we flew back 4,000 meters.”
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Three of the men on board, including Clark, were injured; the others previously received Purple Hearts.
Unlike the other two, Clark didn’t see a doctor for his injuries, which included shrapnel in his knee, until a few days later, complicating paperwork for the Purple Heart and leading him to believe he wasn’t eligible for the award. When the helicopter’s Plexiglas shattered and cut his face during the onslaught, he said he didn’t even notice.
“Someone said, ‘You’re bleeding,’ ” he remembered. “I said, ‘I am?’ “
After his aircraft commander urged Clark to dig up the paperwork necessary for the Purple Heart, awarded to those wounded in combat, his daughter, Bethany Clark, contacted Sen. Patty Murray’s office in August.
Murray awarded Clark the medal Tuesday in a ceremony at the Federal Office Building in Seattle attended by about 30 relatives and friends. He’s previously been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role in saving the lives of six men in a separate mission in addition to two Air Medals for his service.
Murray said the recognition of the award was especially important to Vietnam veterans, who returned to antiwar sentiment in the U.S. in the 1970s.
Clark was a Specialist 4 in the Army and was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 1971. He eventually worked in the grocery business until his retirement; today he’s an assistant softball coach at Bothell High School.
Clark joined the Army in June 1968 after being drafted, and served in Phan Thiet, Vietnam, for a year beginning in December 1968. Originally an ammunition specialist spending his days loading rockets, he said he grew bored and volunteered to join the 192nd Assault Helicopter Company. He ended up flying more than 50 missions.
Wearing a button-down shirt and khakis, a stoic Clark stood to receive the medal, presented by Murray with the help of his 18-year-old grandson, Chaz Evers. He smiled twice: once when Murray mentioned the boredom that led him into the thick of the war, and again when she brought up the motto of his company, nicknamed Tiger Shark: “You call, we maul.”
Clark’s daughter, Bethany Clark, who worked to get the award, was beaming Tuesday.
“It means everything to me. I’m so proud,” said Bethany Clark, 28, of Kenmore. “After 42 years, he’s finally getting what he deserves.”
Lark Turner: 206-464-2761 or firstname.lastname@example.org.