Harold Melville Clark was born October 4, 1890, to Charles Asa Clark and Amanda Palmer Clark in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Clark family had a strong military tradition dating back to the Revolutionary War.
His father fought Spanish forces in the Philippines while assigned to Company E, 13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, during the Spanish American War of 1898. Clark’s older brother, Charles, served as a field-artillery officer with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I.
The end of the Spanish American War brought a period of growth and interest in the Philippines. In 1904, the Clarks moved to Manila, where they enjoyed considerable wealth and prestige due to the family’s business ventures. During this time, Harold attended the American High School in Manila; he graduated April 1, 1910.
Harold followed in his family’s footsteps and returned to the US for military training. After being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the cavalry in 1913, his first assignment was with 1st Cavalry Division.
A couple years later he transferred into the Signal Corps’ aviation section and went to the North Island Flying School in San Diego, Calif. On May 3, 1917, Clark received his rating as a junior military aviator.
While Clark was getting his Army wings, the Signal Corps’ aviation section and military aviation in general was getting a troublesome start in the Hawaiian Islands. The first Army airplanes, pilots and crews arrived in Oahu in July 1913. The planes were based at Fort Kamehameha, near present-day Hickam Air Force Base.
Lieutenant Harold Geiger, who commanded the aviation assets, noted his limited aircraft were in poor shape. His flights were limited to short flights in Pearl Harbor and a longer flight to Diamond Head and back to Fort Kamehameha.
Geiger was ordered to cease all flying operations in late 1913. The planes were sold locally, and the engines were sent back to the North Island Flying School. The Hawaiian Islands wouldn’t see any more Army aviation activity until 1917. (Romano; Arlington)
Major Harold Clark became Army Department Aviation Officer and arrived in the Territory of Hawaii in 1917 to take command of the Army’s 6th Aero Squadron.
A major construction effort was initiated at the new Army air base at Pearl Harbor. Before long, Ford Island had two double seaplane hangars with concrete ramps, two wooden land plane hangars, one small motor repair and machine shop, and a supply warehouse.
In the center to the south end a narrow strip of land was cleared for land plane operation. By this time, the 6th’s strength increased to 10 officers. (hawaii-gov)
Clark quickly began to learn the Hawaiian winds and how to fly in them. On March 15, 1918, he flew to Molokai and back to Oahu – the first round trip inter-island flight ever made in the Hawaiian Islands.
His next feat was to try a three-island flight. Agreeing to take the mail, on May 9, 1918, Clark and mechanic Sergeant Robert Gray took off from Fort Kamehameha Oahu and flew to Maui. (Griffith)
After landing in Maui, they continued onto the island of Hawai‘i; nearing Hawai‘i’s coastline, Clark encountered thick cloud formations and promptly lost his bearings. Darkness added to his worries, so the Army flyer decided to land quickly. His airplane crashed on the slope of Mauna Kea.
Unhurt, pilot and mechanic found themselves in a jungle-like brush with no civilization in sight. Hoping to draw attention to their location, the pair set a fire some distance away from the wreckage … no rescuers came, so they started to walk out. (Hawaii-gov)
Two days after the crash, Clark and Gray emerged from the jungle unhurt. Clark delivered the letters, received an enormous welcome from the island’s residents and was the first airman to fly the mail in the Hawaiian Islands. (Griffith)
Clark continued to make regular flights among the islands. However, he was ordered back to the US mainland August 28, 1918, for pursuit training at the North Island Flying School.
Following this, Clark assumed command of Pursuit Group, First Provisional Wing, at Minneola, Long Island, N.Y. Clark commanded this group for only a short time before being ordered to Panama at the end of 1918.
On the morning of May 2, 1919, Clark and two other aviators, Lieutenant JRL Hitt and Lieutenant Thomas Cecil Tonkin, left France Field for Balboa in an Army seaplane. While enroute, the plane developed engine problems, but the trio made it to Balboa safely.
That same afternoon, the three aviators began the return flight to France Field with Hitt at the controls. Due to the plane’s earlier troubles, the flight followed the Panama Canal at an altitude of 250 feet. Shortly into the flight, the plane’s engine stopped.
The plane crashed into the front of Miraflores Locks at about 5 pm. “The machine crumpled up like a house of cards, and the three men were thrown into the water of the lock. Lieutenant Tonkin was undoubtedly killed instantly by the twisting timbers of the machine.”
“… Major Clark sank to the bottom of the lock, and it’s not known whether he was killed in the crash or whether he drowned.” (Panama Star & Herald; Romano; Arlington)
Hitt was severely injured in the crash, but bystanders rescued him. The Army ruled his death as an accident due to internal injuries caused by “aeroplane traumatism,” according to a Defense Department report on Clark’s death dated May 8, 1919. Clark was buried May 29, 1919, with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
The base in the Philippines that would eventually bear Clark’s name was established in 1902 as Fort Stotensberg. The Army used this installation as a cavalry post following the Spanish American War. During World War II, this base would be pivotal in the Army Air Force’s effort to win the air war against Japan.
Following the end of World War II and creation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947, Fort Stotensberg was renamed Clark Air Base. The US turned over possession of Clark Air Base to the Republic of the Philippines November 26, 1991. Clark Air Base is now an international airport serving the Philippines. (Romano; Arlington)