Captain Tommy Clack – 2019 Hero of the Year

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By David Nastal and Eden Nastal

As an eighth-generation soldier in the Army, Tommy Clack grew up with a love for history and knew that one day, he, too, would serve. The first generation to serve in his family was a British Redcoat, and by the second generation, his ancestors had “learned the error of their ways and joined the right side,” according to Clack.

Clack’s father was a World War II and Korean War veteran, and his mother worked on the B-29 Bomber at the Bell Bomber plant in Marietta.

“Seeing my dad in his dress blues inspired me to serve in the military,” said Clack.

After starting college, he worried that he had missed out on Vietnam. “I wanted to prove to myself that I was half the man my dad was.”

Service in Vietnam

After leaving college, Clack joined the Army. After graduating in the top 10 percent of his class in Officer Candidate School, he was allowed to choose his assignment. Although he chose Vietnam, he was assigned to Command at Ft. Sill. Eventually, his orders for Vietnam came through and he served his first of two tours.

After returning stateside, Clack wanted to go back and during his second tour, he was a part of the C/2/27 Infantry – Wolfhounds of the 25th Division as an Artillery Forward Observer.

As a Captain, he was respected by his men because he consistently chose to be in the field with them, eating C-rations and giving up comforts, instead of being back at camp, eating steak in better living conditions.

“As a leader, you don’t get something that your men can’t have,” said Clack. “It was my job to be there. When you care about the people you are with, you aren’t going to segregate yourself from them.”

The Firefight that Changed Everything

On May 29, 1969, Clack was severely injured during a firefight. He was hit by an exploding round.

“I remember flying through the air, and I remember coming down, and I sat up and I looked down, and I saw that I was missing my right arm and right leg, and my left leg was laying off to the side like it was broken,” said Clack.

“I had several puncture wounds over my body that I was bleeding from. I saw everybody running around and from that point forward, I really started thinking that my time had come and I was going to die.”

Clack said that during the ordeal, he felt calm and didn’t feel any pain.

After the battle subsided, a medevac came. Clack remembered the medic covering him with a poncho and telling the others that he had not made it.

“I remember seeing myself as if I was looking down from above,” said Clack. “I knew that I was dead.”

While covered with the poncho, his body was flown to the 12th Evac Hospital in Cu Chi and put in the area that was used for the DOA’s.

For reasons that he still cannot explain, the surgeon at the hospital went over and uncovered Clack’s body and saw something that made him believe he was still alive. He and his team immediately began surgery.

During the time that he was considered deceased, Clack describes an experience where he was back at the scene of the battle, surrounded by fellow soldiers, and it was understood amongst all of them that they were all dead. He described a white glow of light and a feeling of peace.

Seven days later, Clack woke up.

“I was touched by God and told that it was not my time,” said Clack.

Clack told the medical staff everything that had happened to him during the past seven days. He recalled how, from above, he saw his body getting covered with the poncho. He told of his experience back at the scene of the battle and named all of the men that had died that day.

Everyone was awed as it would have been impossible for him to know this under normal circumstances.

He realized that his left leg had been amputated above the knee, leaving him with his left arm as his one remaining limb.

Clack then spent 22 months in the Atlanta VA Medical Center, going through 33 operations. Since that day in 1969, he has survived 50 inpatient surgeries, 15 outpatient surgeries, and spent a total of two years, six months, and 12 days being laid up recovering from these surgeries.

Continued Service

With his positive attitude and his faith in God, Clack continued to serve his country and others. He worked in a position that enabled him to travel the country and speak about the importance of supporting our military personnel.

In many instances, he was met with opposition that included harsh words, and even water balloons and eggs.

Clack later worked with Senator Sam Nunn as a liaison for the VA and was then a Staff Assistant to the Director of the Atlanta VA.

In 1984, Tommy Clack served Senator Nunn over his tenure and had the honor of meeting President Reagan while in D.C.

For the remainder of his government career, he worked for 19 years as Field Manager and Service Officer for the Georgia Department of Veterans Service where he served and assisted over 60,000 veterans during his career.

“Georgia is a trailblazer amongst all other states in maximizing entitled veterans benefits,” said Clack. When veterans were turned down, Clack was known for finding a way to make it happen.

Retirement

After over 47 years of military and government employment, Clack retired in 2012. Just as he did not let his injuries slow him down as a young man, Clack did not let retirement slow him down either.

Clack has been involved in helping over 300 military and veteran memorials become a reality in cities, counties and states across the United States.

He serves as the current president of the Walk of Heroes Veterans War Memorial located in a park setting in Rockdale County, Georgia. $2.8 million of the planned $34 million project has been built.

As President of the Walk of Heroes, Tommy presented a plaque to Sheriff Eric Levitt with the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Department for their continuous year-round support and for solving and catching, within 45 days, the three people who damaged the Walk of Heroes Memorial in December 2017.

 

Tommy and the Walk of Heroes Board brought the Vietnam Wall to the metro Atlanta area May 5-10, 2015, to honor May 7th, which was the 40th Anniversary Observance of the Vietnam War.

Through a self-paced and guided tour, the Walk of Heroes Veterans War Memorial provides the public with an opportunity to reflect on the rights and freedom enjoyed by today’s Americans, which have all been protected by the unselfish acts and sacrifice of veterans.

Unfortunately, this memorial suffered over $200,000 in damage after it was vandalized in 2017. Clack and the other volunteers have worked diligently to raise the funds needed to fully repair the damages. A re-dedication ceremony is scheduled for April of this year.

Clack stays busy with over 120 speaking engagements each year where he shares his testimony on his life, faith in God, the history of the United States Constitution, and the fact that freedom is not free.

He has been recognized for his service to others over 200 times on the city, county, state and national levels. Although he appreciates the recognition, Clack is not one to take any credit.

“The teams I serve make me look good. Any recognition of me is recognition of a great team effort and God grants me my abilities,” said Clack.

Because of his life of service, Clack was inducted into the first class of the Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2013.

Above all of his other accomplishments, it is evident how proud Clack is of being a father to his son, Adam, and daughter, Erin. Adam served as an Army Ranger with nine combat tours – four in Iraq, and five in Afghanistan. Erin runs a photography business, is a wife, and is the mother of Clack’s four grandchildren.

Tommy’s daughter Erin and her family: (Left to right) Noah, Annaleigh, Erin, Naomi, and Erin’s husband DJ, holding Issac
Pictured left to right are Tommy, his daughter Erin, and his son Adam, a Ranger with nine combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Hero

When asked for his definition of a hero, Clack said that “a hero is somebody who gives more than they take and is willing to sacrifice all that they have in life to ensure others have.”

Clack has spent his life fighting for his country, protecting others, serving veterans and their families, and setting an example not only for his grandchildren, but also for the thousands of adults and youth who he has positively impacted.

Tommy and fellow Vietnam Veteran Dick Callouet (262 combat missions as a F4 Pilot) on his first ever cross-bow hunting trip in September 2017.

He prides himself on his independence. Despite his perceived limitations, Clack is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys hunting, fishing and shooting year-round. He travels often and drives himself all over the country and takes commercial flights. He lives his life to the fullest.

Anyone who has the privilege of knowing Clack will tell you he does not consider himself to be a hero. Respectfully, Captain Clack, we will just have to agree to disagree.

To learn more about Walk of Heroes Veterans War Memorial, or to make a donation, visit walkofheroes.org.

JAN2020-TOMMY-5
Tommy went to the Raffer W Ranch in Texas in October 2014 to deer hunt. Nothing stops him from participating in his favorite activities!
(Left to right) Tommy’s son Adam, Tommy, and Greg Giddens, a fellow veteran and friend, enjoy participating in dove shoots and turkey hunts.

 

Tommy has driven 25,000-30,000 miles a year in his van since 1971.

All photos provided by Tommy Clack

 

 

 

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