Family of World War I soldier visits Legion Post in Medina that bears his name
MEDINA – Jennifer Clark Paige never knew her great-great-uncle Cpl. James P. Clark.
But on Saturday, she and her second cousin Chere Bougard of North Tonawanda had a hard time choking back the tears during a special ceremony honoring Clark at the American Legion Post on North Main Street .
“Although I never met him, he’s a hero and I would not be here without his sacrifice,” Paige said.
Cpl. James P. Clark was a Medina resident and member of Company F, who trained at the Medina Armory, along with his brothers Leslie and Seth.
All three were at the Hindenburg Line in France on Sept. 27, 1918, when James was shot and died.
“I had it in my mind we could go to France and visit the American section of Bony Cemetery, where Uncle James is buried,” said Chere Bougard, great-niece. “When it became apparent we weren’t going to get there, we started making other plans to memorialize him.”
About five years ago Bougard visited the Butts-Clark American Legion, which is named for Lt. John Butts and Clark.
She suggested to her second cousin, Jennifer Clark Page of Buffalo, about doing a ceremony in Medina, and Paige said, “Yes, yes.”
“We contacted the Post and they were more than welcoming,” Bougard said.
Saturday’s ceremony began with the Pledge of Allegiance and reading of the circumstances surrounding Cpl. Clark’s death by Cathy Fox.
“Today, Sept. 29, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of Cpl. James P. Clark’s death,” Fox said. “It is appropriate we gather to pay our respects to this young soldier.
“One-hundred years ago, Company F, 108th Infantry, which was made up of infantrymen from Medina and New York City, was part of one of the great offensive movements launched by American forces during World War I – to break through the German defenses at the Hindenburg Line. The object was Bony, France. That day, the attack began in the early morning hours and as the day progressed, they suffered heavy casualties. But, by 11 a.m. they had reached their goal.
“As the offensive progressed, the commanding officers of the unit were also lost. Cpl. James P. Clark of Medina assumed command of his unit at a moment when confusion could have overcome the men. For nearly 20 minutes, he urged his friends forward before receiving a gunshot wound to the chest. He died in the arms of his comrades. Of the 239 in Company F who had started the long march across the shell- and bullet-racked field, only 54 answered roll call after the engagement.”
Cpl. Clark was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for “leading his men into effective action after all superior officers had been killed, and directing that action coolly and courageously.”
Fox explained that following the war, in early 1919 as the American Legion was becoming an official veterans’ organization, posts were being organized across the country. In Medina, the first step was deciding on a name for the new post, and it was a policy to name a post after a resident who had given his life for his country in the Great War.
Cpl. Clark was one of Medina’s first to die in France. The decision to name the post after him also honored his family, whose two other sons were wounded and able to return home.
Saturday’s ceremony then moved outside, where an Honor Guard from the American Legion and VFW gave a three-gun salute, followed by the playing of Taps by bugler Russell Young.
Legion commander Glenn Whitmore said it was a pleasure and an honor to have Clark ’s family there, as he presented Bougard with a coin which is given to a family at a military funeral. He also held up the Company F flag, under which Clark had served.
“We feel so honored to have the cooperation of these great people in Medina,” Bougard said.
“This has been very special,” Fox said.