63 years later, soldier's kin find closure
HUNTINGDON, Tenn. -- The family of Private William Bernice Clark never had a funeral for him, never got to say goodbye, and never really accepted his fate among the fallen during the Normandy D-day landings in World War II.
That was until yesterday, when his dog tag, discovered recently in the sands of Omaha Beach in France, was returned to his native Tennessee exactly 63 years after D-day .
"This feels like an ending," said the soldier's first cousin, Lota Park, 79, who with another cousin accepted the dog tag at a ceremony in the small town of Huntingdon, 90 miles west of Nashville.
The tag has blackened with age, but his name, identification number, religion (Protestant), and blood type (Type O) are all clearly visible.
It remained out of sight for more than five decades until a collector from England found it five years ago on the beach, probably near the very spot where the 20-year-old Clark was killed. The collector gave the dog tag to a World War II buff from New Jersey, who turned it over to the National D-Day Memorial.
"It's in pretty remarkable condition considering it was buried in the sand for 58 years," said Jeff Fulgham, National D-Day Memorial director, who presented the tag to Clark's surviving family members.
The memorial, based in Bedford, Va., keeps records of nearly every American and Allied soldier killed during the invasion. It helped locate Clark's family in Huntingdon a couple of months ago.
"I remember the day the soldiers came and told his mother" that Clark had died, Park said. "They never accepted it because there was no proof, no body."
The family has only a few personal effects from Clark: two yellowing photos, a couple of letters received during his short service, and his Purple Heart.
His remains were buried in a cemetery for American soldiers in France.