This Compass series chronicles the first 14 heroes the Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters have been named for. These men and women, who stood the watch before us, lived extraordinary lives as they lit the way for sailors in times past, braved gunfire in times of war and rescued those in peril at sea. As Coast Guard heroes, their stories are a constant reminder of our service’s legacy. As the namesake of the Coast Guard’s newest patrol boats, they will inspire the next generation of Coast Guard heroes.
With contributions from LTJG Ryan White
Fireman First Class Paul Leaman Clark displayed extraordinary devotion to duty in the face of enemy fire while serving as a landing boat engineer attached to the USS Joseph T. Dickman during the allied assault on French Morocco during World War II.
Clark served as beach master where he supervised the unloading of soldiers and supplies from the transports on the beach. This was an especially hazardous duty, as once disembarked from the landing crafts, soldiers were vulnerable to enemy fire.
Early into the assault, which lasted from November 8-11, 1942, Clark was unloading a transport when a hostile plane battered his boat with machinegun fire. The heavy fire mortally wounded the bowman and severely injured the coxswain. Showing unsurpassed courage and initiative Clark took control of the boat and withdrew from the beach with the injured crewmember aboard.
Clark sped towards the nearby USS Palmer and transferred the wounded man to safety. Although enemy bullets had already punctured his craft, he courageously returned to his station at the beach and completed the boat’s mission.
The torrential gunfire led 21 of the 32 boats to be lost at the landing during the duration of the assault. These harrowing wartime conditions did not hamper Clark, instead he rose to the occasion with fierce bravery in the highest traditions of military service. For his courage that day, Clark was awarded the Navy Cross.
A special place in the Coast Guard’s history
The invasion of North Africa in November 1942 was the first offensive for the United States against Germany during World War II. At the time, “Operation Torch” was the largest amphibious operation ever undertaken.
Operation Torch proved to be the turning point in the Allies’ war in Africa and after their loss of French Morocco, the Nazis remained on the defensive for the remainder of the war.
Honoring the heritage of Clark, the Coast Guard presents the “Fireman First Class Paul Clark Boat Force Engineer Award” annually to an enlisted boat engineer who demonstrates exemplary performance and superior technical, professional, leadership, and seamanship abilities while performing Coast Guard boat operations.
“Fireman Clark was a true hero, selflessly risking his own life in order to save wounded crewmembers while simultaneously completing an important mission,” said Petty Officer Second Class Matthew Merical, a machinery technician and recipient of the 2009 Paul Clark Boat Force Engineer Award. “Clarks actions were incredibly inspiring to me as an enlisted member and hopefully his story will continue to inspire others in the service. Having a new Fast Response Cutter named after him will be a fitting tribute to one of our best.”