Bruce Clark alternates between the sea and PGE
He served in WWII and Korea, and enjoyed camping all over the U.S.
Bruce Clark can still list his trips across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and all the stops in between during World War II and the Korean War as if they occurred yesterday.
Joining the Navy, he did indeed "see the world," serving primarily on troop transport ships and making five trips through the Panama Canal.
The Summerfield resident admits he had several lucky escapes and emerged from the service safe and sound to go on and enjoy the family and life he created with his wife Betty, to whom he was married for 59 ¾ years.
Born 91 years ago in Portland, Bruce attended Rose City Park Grammar School and then Benson High School, joining the Naval Reserves as an apprentice seaman while in high school - after a brief hitch: "I went in with my buddy, and they took him, but I had to come back a week later after I turned 17," Bruce said. "My father said I was too snotty and needed some discipline."
Serving in the Naval Reserves meant weekly training while still in high school, and after Bruce graduated, he went to work "at a sheet-metal place for 19 cents an hour," he recalled. "Then I got hired at Boeing in Seattle for 39 cents an hour and worked there until I got called up for active duty in February 1941 as a seaman second class."
On Pearl Harbor Day - Dec. 7, 1941 - Bruce was in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where his ship was picking up German prisoners who had been captured after a blockade was set up to prevent German supplies from being shipped from South America.
"The Germans prisoners were the crew of a freighter that was carrying rubber to Germany," Bruce said.
Bruce was assigned to the USS Neville (APA-9), a Heywood-class attack transport that was originally built as a three-mast, 509-foot "screw steamer" in 1918. After several conversions and names, it was converted again at the Willamette Iron and Steel Works in Portland in 1941 and recommissioned as the Neville with a carrying capacity of 1,150 troops plus the crew.
After conducting landing exercises with Army units along the East Coast, the ship departed in February 1942 on her first trans-Atlantic run during WWII.
Bruce, who became a seaman first class, added, "We had defensive weapons on board, and we used flags and lights to signal other ships using Morse code. On that first trip, we took troops to England, also visiting Ireland and Scotland before bringing pre-flight Scottish servicemen back to the U.S. for pilot training.
"We went through the Panama Canal to drop off Seabees at Bora Bora, Tahiti, to build an airfield before moving on to Wellington, New Zealand, where we waited a month for Marines to arrive."
The ship then headed to the Fiji Islands to meet up with other Allied vessels that were part of Operation Watchtower that conducted assaults on Tulagi and Guadalcanal, and by then Bruce was a signalman third class.
(When the Allies learned that a Japanese airfield was being constructed on the north coast of Guadalcanal, the U.S. started the first amphibious landings of WWII, starting with those Marines on the Neville on Aug. 7, 1942, and secured the airfield.
Holding that airfield as well as the surrounding sea and airspace for the next half year proved to be one of the most difficult campaigns of the war, and Guadalcanal became infamous for an ongoing, hard-fought battle until the Japanese gave up control of the island.)
The Neville arrived at New Caledonia before continuing on to Wellington to take on reinforcements before returning to the combat area to disburse more troops. The ship continued its transport duties in the New Caledonia-New Hebrides area before dropping off troops and supplies at Guadalcanal.
The ship returned to San Diego and then went through the Panama Canal to Norfolk, Va., before heading to North Africa with troops and supplies for the Sicilian invasion.
"The Germans started dropping bombs, and we started shooting," Bruce said. "We lost some ships and planes full of paratroopers. Then it was back to the States with a whole load of Rommel's prisoners from North Africa."
(Those prisoners were under the command of Erwin Rommel, a German field officer known as the Desert Fox while fighting the Allied troops.)
After arriving in Virginia, the Neville departed three weeks later for the Pacific, and Bruce, who had became a signalman second class, left the ship, noting that in all that time at sea, he never got seasick.
In September 1944, Bruce was chosen to go into an officers' training program at the University of California-Berkeley, which took one year, and then he was transferred to the Navy's Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at the University of California-Los Angeles for 1 ½ years, leaving with a commission as an ensign.
"I did the equivalent of four years of college in 2 ½ years," said Bruce, who was discharged in March 1946. "The Navy made me an officer and a gentleman."
Back in Oregon as a civilian, Bruce went to work for PGE in May 1946 in the customer service department, until the Navy called him back to active duty in 1951 because of the Korean War, which was fought from June 1950 to July 1953, with the United Nations supporting the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and China supporting the People's Republic of Korea (North Korea).
"I had to give two years of service for the schooling the Navy gave me," Bruce said. "I was assigned to a patrol frigate, the USS Albuquerque (PF-7), that alternated four months off Korea at the 42nd Parallel "and shot 'targets of opportunity' as they called it," and four months in Hong Kong as the station stop for the Naval attaché to handle all radio transmissions for the U.S. Embassy because the British wouldn't allow transmissions from land.
"On one trip we left Hong Kong for Korea and ran into a typhoon. The frigate was damaged, and we were listing 48 degrees - we didn't know if we would make it. We ended up in the Philippines, which was the nearest repair facility, for one month for repairs.
"We went back and forth between Hong Kong and Korea, and there were extreme temperature differences. It was 90-plus in Hong Kong in the summer, and Korea in the winter was below freezing. We would have to chop the ice off the lines. I was discharged in 1951, and the Navy gave our ship to the Japanese."
Bruce, who was awarded a number of service medals for his time serving in WWII and the Korean War, joined the Naval Reserves and went up through the ranks, retiring as a commander from the Navy in 1972.
After leaving active duty, Bruce went back to work at PGE and later transferred to the load dispatcher office, retiring as a senior systems control operator. ("During the Columbus Day storm, I didn't get home for three days," he said.)
Bruce had met his future wife Betty, a bookkeeper at PGE, when he first worked there, and they dated for two years and got married May 23, 1949, before he was called up for active duty a second time.
The couple had three children - a daughter and two sons - and after Bruce retired from PGE in 1986, they moved to Wamic on the Pine Hollow Reservoir out of Tygh Valley, where they lived for 22 years.
"There was fishing and boating, and it was close to hunting, but it was 40 miles to the nearest doctor and dentist and grocery store in The Dalles," Bruce said.
There also is a lot of wildlife in the area, and Bruce had a near-fatal incident with a deer during this time.
"I used to drive up the old fire roads, and one evening I was heading home at 50 mph because it was chow time when a deer ran across the road," Bruce said. "I swerved to avoid it and hit a tree head on. I had a seatbelt on - if I hadn't, I wouldn't be here today.
"After a couple of hours, a logging truck came by, and the driver went on his CB radio and called for help. They got a helicopter out of Bend, and I was taken to Emanuel in Portland where I had eight screws and two metal plates put in my left hip. Eight years later, I had a hip replacement."
The Clarks moved to Beaverton and then Tigard before moving to Summerfield in 2005.
They loved to travel and visited all 50 states, taking a cruise to Alaska and driving in a motor home to the other 48, and Bruce still has a map of the United States with the routes from all their trips marked in different colors.
"We had a good time," he said. "We would travel a maximum of 200 miles a day, and we had a book that listed all the campsites. Every time we saw something, we stopped."
Betty died in 2009, but Bruce enjoys his 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren with a sixth due in February.
His family had a "big bash" for his 90th birthday last year, and Bruce, a lifelong golfer since his family lived across the street from the Rose City Golf Course when he was growing up, hopes to resume playing on the Summerfield course this spring. (According to the Summerfield Summary monthly newsletter, he played 142 times in 2010.)
Bruce keeps his mind sharp by playing pinochle twice a week and canasta once a week, and he learning to use an iPad.
What amazes him the most is that he and his brother and sister are all still alive because no one else in his family is long-lived.
"My mom died in 1929 from the flu, my dad died at 76, and my granddad died at 70-something," said Bruce, who is the oldest among his siblings. "In my mom's family, there were 12 kids, and they all died in their early 70s. Why are the three of us pushing 90?"