View Full Version : Marines honor captain's heroism

01-21-07, 08:00 AM
Posted on Sun, Jan. 21, 2007

Marines honor captain's heroism
74-year-old angler remembered for putting others first
By Jason M. Rodriguez
The Sun News

GARDEN CITY BEACH - The late Capt. Bob Clarke was honored Saturday with the highest award given by the Marine Corps League just feet from the glass doors the 74-year-old once burst through to greet his boating friends.

"He would come through those doors, smile at everybody and say, 'What's happening?'" said Clarke's friend Wayne Smith, who was his shipmate when their boat capsized in May, claiming Clarke's life.

"Bob was so full of life, even at 74. He was the kind of guy that would always tell the same jokes over and he'd wait for everyone to laugh."

Many of the more than 70 people at Saturday's ceremony clung to cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon kept chilled by the frosty late-afternoon breeze off the marina. Clarke owned the Pabst Blue Ribbon distribution center in Florence, but his true passions were fishing and being along the coast.

"Bob loved to fish," Smith said. "We fished about a hundred days a year. Anytime he'd go on vacation, he never left the coast. Whether it was Florida or Costa Rica, he was always on the beach and the water."

Clarke's wife Martha held the plaque honoring her husband. With her wedding ring shining in the sun, she greeted well-wishers, reassuring them it was a happy day.

"Bob had been fishing for 35 years. He loved it. That was his life," she said after the ceremony. "He respected the ocean. He had no fear of it."

On May 17, Clarke and Smith took five West Virginia visitors 68 miles offshore in their 26-foot charter catamaran fishing boat for an all-day fishing trip. As they returned home, a wave capsized the boat 12 miles from shore.

The seven clung to the slick bottom of the overturned boat until another wave knocked them back into the ocean, sweeping Clarke and passenger Mike Robinson from the boat.

Smith threw a seat cushion to Clarke and said he'd swim to them. Clarke ordered him to stay with the others.

"He knew the current was that strong, and I was just about totally exhausted," Smith told The Sun News a few weeks after the rescue." He said 'Stay with the boat, stay with those guys - they need you. I've got Mike, we'll be all right.'"

On Saturday, Smith remembered watching the two float away, thinking they would wash up on shore and get help.

Smith, who spoke to Robinson before Saturday's ceremony, said Robinson told him he and Clarke bobbed on the seat cushion for hours, often getting thrown off by rampant waves.

Robinson told Smith they talked to each other about every 15 minutes to make sure the other was OK. It wasn't until about 2 or 3 a.m. that Clarke didn't respond.

Robinson told the Coast Guard that Clarke had a heart attack, and he'd tried to revive him but failed. He said he tried to hold the captain, but a wave knocked his grip loose. Clarke's body was never recovered.

"When Mike called me, he said he was sorry he couldn't make it and ... tell the family that there is no doubt ... Bob saved his life," Smith said.

Clarke's award was given through the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation.

Clarke's heroism mirrored that of four chaplains who were aboard the USAT Dorchester when it was sunk in 1943 by a German submarine near the coast of Greenland. Only 230 of the 902 men aboard survived. Among the dead were the chaplains, who first calmed panicking men, then gave up their life jackets as the ship sank.

The four went down with it, their arms linked as they offered prayers the survivors in lifeboats could hear, according to the foundation Web site.

The foundation exists to further the cause of unity and goodwill by honoring those who reflect the chaplains' legacy, the Web site said.

Butch Raynes, commandant of the Marine Corps League's Grand Strand Detachment 873, which hosted Saturday's event, called Clarke's actions those of a "typical Marine."

"Marines help Marines and help anyone else for that matter," Raynes said.

"Always have. Always will. If somebody's in trouble, they'll come forward and do something."

Martha Clarke remembers her late husband, Bob Clarke, at a service on Saturday.
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 910-754-9868 or jrodriguez@thesunnews.com.