Going the Distance
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Dick Clark is quick to insist that he isn’t “interesting enough” to be the subject of any article worth reading. His humble nature belies the fact that he is the recipient of a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, is an accomplished martial artist and motorcycle aficionado, and has devoted his retirement to helping veterans in need.
Born in Thibodaux, Louisiana, Dick and his family moved to Oklahoma when he was young, living in Guymon and Oklahoma City before eventually settling in Cleveland County. “We came to Norman when I was in seventh grade, and I’ve been here ever since,” he recollects. “I attended OU in the 1960s, but my grades weren’t that good, so I knew I needed to look for something else.”
In 1966, Dick’s twin brother Bob enlisted in the Marines, and Dick followed course six months later. “The Marines just seemed to be the best option,” he explains. “It seemed like a true brotherhood.”
That same year, Dick married his lifelong love, Donna, and soon deployed abroad. “Normally, two members of the same family are not sent to the same combat zone,” Dick explains. “So, I was sent to Okinawa and Bob went to Vietnam. I kept asking to go to Vietnam, so that Bob could be sent home. I finally succeeded in getting to Vietnam, but Bob didn’t leave. My unit and his unit were on the same operation, so we did see each other while we were deployed.”
Within one month of each other, Dick and Bob were injured during their service in Vietnam, both by hostile grenades. Dick recovered from his injuries, while Bob lost his leg above the knee. Both brothers were awarded the Purple Heart for their injuries. “My dad was a lieutenant in the Army and had also received a Purple Heart,” Dick adds. “So, three members of our immediate family have received it.”
Following 20 months of service, Dick returned to Oklahoma. “I was dealing with the effects of having served in Vietnam,” he recalls. “Like a lot of veterans, I kept it all inside.” So he turned to martial arts to help him channel his feelings. He spent 20 years training in martial arts and became a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a second-degree black belt in Hapkido. “I trained side-by-side with my son over the years,” he adds. “It really helped me deal with some of the issues from Vietnam.”
Professionally, Dick was a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service for more than 20 years. He retired in 2008 and began exploring his love of motorcycles. “I bought my first motorcycle in Shawnee,” he says, laughing. “When the dealership delivered it, I got on the bike and made it about 40 feet before I crashed into a neighbor’s yard.” Since then, Dick has become an experienced rider, taking trips to Sturgis and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Remembering his experiences in Vietnam is an important part of Dick’s healing process. “I have a tendency to collect books about Vietnam,” Dick says. “I have to see what other people experienced there. It reminds me how lucky I am to be a survivor. When I think about the ones that didn’t make it back, I have to keep that in sight.”
Each week, Dick spends time helping other veterans by volunteering with local organizations, including the Dale K. Graham Veteran’s Corner (dalekgrahamveteranscorner.org). Veteran’s Corner helps process Veteran’s Administration claims for military veterans and their families, as well as providing assistance with medical care and other necessities.
“It’s the best therapy I’ve ever had,” he says. “I’ve volunteered with two different organizations for about 10 years. It’s been extremely rewarding to be able to help veterans get the help they need.”
Dick and Donna recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. “She’s the only one who would put up with me this long,” he says with a laugh. The longevity of his marriage ties directly into the advice that he passes on to others: “No matter what happens, decide what you are going to do and stay with it. No matter what, never give up. It’s a lifelong lesson.”