SACO — The baseball cap is navy blue, with the words “Korea Veteran” stitched on the front.

If Dick Clark wasn’t wearing it so often, you would probably never know that he served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He doesn’t talk about it much, never has, not even to the four children he and his wife, Janice, raised.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about it. The war in Korea has often been called “The Forgotten War,” sandwiched between World War II and the Vietnam War. But for the 88-year old Clark, “it’s still hanging onto my memory.”

“There’s never a day that goes by where I don’t think of something that has to do with Korea,” he said one recent morning after his daily game of cribbage with friends at the Saco Community Center. “Never. I’m just always aware of it.”

Born on Dec. 9, 1929, Clark was raised in Saco. He graduated from Thornton Academy in 1948 and enlisted for one year in the Army, where he met his future wife. After his service was up, he returned to Maine, joined the reserves and attended Portland Junior College (a precursor to the University of Southern Maine) to study accounting, although, he said with a laugh, “I really wasn’t equipped for it.”

Then, on June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and Clark was called back to active duty.

He reported to Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky that September and was in Korea two months later. While he knows he went to Seoul and spent a lot of time around the 38th Parallel, for the most part he didn’t know where he was.

“I had no idea because I never saw a map and we couldn’t read Korean signs,” he said. “It’s like, they drop you off somewhere and that’s it – ‘Go up that hill, go up that hill.”

And there were a lot of hills. “Hills, hills, hills, hills, hills, hills,” he said, when asked to describe the landscape. “And it was cold.”

Cribbage at the Saco Community Center has become part of Dick Clark’s daily routine and “a good excuse to get up in the morning,” as his wife, Janice, puts it. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The U.S. soldiers were told, when they first arrived, that they should be home by Christmas. When it became apparent that wasn’t going to happen, Clark said there was much discouragement. Conditions weren’t helping – there were constant firefights and supplies were limited.

“We were issued uniforms in late November, December,” he said. “And we didn’t get to change them until March. We spent the whole winter in them. Then we went down and set up someplace that had hot water and took showers and got new uniforms.”

Clark, who earned the rank of sergeant, never got used to the fighting. “I don’t know if I can describe it right,” he said. “The first time it was confusion … There was always a degree of confusion to it.”

But Clark escaped unhurt. “I was lucky,” he said. “Never got a scratch. Machine gun bolts all around me. Never got a scratch.”

“He doesn’t talk about it much,” said his wife Janice. “He was there in the thick of it. He was very fortunate.”

Clark returned to Maine in June, 1951, finished school, married Janice on Sept. 13, 1951 – one day after she graduated from nursing school – and was in California a day later. He graduated from the University of Santa Clara with a degree in general business, then returned to Maine where he has held a variety of jobs over the years – none involving accounting.

Clark moved his family into his great-grandparents’ house on Ferry Road in Saco in 1969 and has lived there since. “It’s been a good life in many ways,” he said.

These days that includes his daily cribbage games with a close group of friends. Janice calls it “a good excuse to get up in the morning.”

The game is as much social as anything, the banter often focused elsewhere. “You need thick skin to play here,” said Dick Parker, who has played cribbage with Clark for over 20 years.

But Clark seldom talks about his service, perhaps because he never considered it anything special.

“We weren’t heroes or anything,” he said. “We just did our job and went on.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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