Freedom Fighters: Johns 'Johnny' Clark - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Freedom Fighters: Johns 'Johnny' Clark

(KLTV) -

Johns "Johnny" Clark of Gresham, Texas,  joined the Navy the day after high school graduation in May of 1942.  Four weeks later, he was a signalman aboard the U,S,S, Wade Hampton, guarding a convoy crossing the North Atlantic.

"We took a torpedo hit and we lost part of the bow of the ship," Clark recalls. 

A German submarine torpedo hit the Hampton and it sank. It was Clark's first experience surviving a sinking ship.  

"We had to jump and we had lights on our life preservers that came on as soon as you hit the water, and we had to swim to the rafts and get in the rafts, and then had to turn that raft loose from the ship so it wouldn't go under when the ship went under."

He says he never really learned to swim very well, even with all of this.

"We lived with our clothes on and a lot of the time we slept with life preservers on," he remembers.

It was a time when German submarines, referred to as the wolf pack, ruled the Atlantic and wreaked havoc on Allied shipping.

"The Bennett went down real quick," he said.

Not only was Clark's first ship sunk by German subs, his second ship, the USS James Bennett, fell victim to the wolf pack as well.

"We took a torpedo on the port side and the key hatch and it looked like the ship was going to break immediately."

Clark says it didn't matter to German submarines if the ships were empty or full, they were all fair game.

"We left Land's End, England, with 28 and we got in with eleven. We lost 17 empty ships on that run."

Clark's ship, the USS Martin Van Buren, was one of the 17 ships lost, in spite of Allied Sonar and Depth Charges.

"The Germans would would submerge and lay there waiting for the convoy to come over, and then they would surface up in the convoy and fire from there."

Many of Clark's young friends aboard the Hampton, Bennett and Van Buren are only memories in faded photographs now. 
Clark went on to sail on four other ships, one of which was set on fire by enemy aircraft. He says in spite of losing friends in the war, he thought he was invincible at the time.

"I didn't realize that He was taking care of me."

Music is one of Johnny Clark's passions these days. He even makes his own guitars. And while that seems a lot safer than sailing, he admits he still has a hankering to be aboard a ship.

"If I could, I'd be out there now," he says. 

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