REEDSPORT -- For Winchester Bay resident Gerry Clark, service during the Vietnam conflict was simple when he signed up.

"I'm an American," Clark said. "I joined to fight for my country."

Clark was born in Eureka, Calif., graduating from Fortuna Union High School in 1960. Although he took some college classes, he didn't receive a degree. The high school grad attended Navy boot camp in San Diego, gaining extensive training for becoming a Navy SEAL and frog man. He later shipped out to Vietnam.

He served in the Southeast Asian country from 1965 through 1967 for two tours SEAL and frog man. Clark worked with others in an underwater demolition team, specifically on hydrological surveys. This way, troops could land amphibious crafts "on enemy held beaches and peaceful beaches."

Along with thousands of others, Clark saw combat.

"I was a swimming scout and a point scout," the veteran said. Part of this included leading teams onto beaches. "You know, we were a team. Everyone was on a mission."

The difficult work as part of the demolition team "separated a lot of men."

"There's some things I won't talk about," he said, adding that for one thing as a vet he's not allowed to do so. "It's not mystical. War is not a movie. It's not a temporary thing. You know I don't brood about it."

Over time, some Vietnam veterans have returned to Vietnam. Not so with Clark.

"No I have not and I have no inclination to do so," he said. "It was a time in space."

Although he liked the Vietnamese people themselves, he despised and still dislikes the Communists.

"They were the enemy," Clark says of the Vietcong. "The Communists were very vicious to their own people. So I felt kind of righteous. I could stand up for the people who were getting tormented by their Communist captors over there. That's pretty self righteous I would think."

He also spoke whether he'd volunteer to serve in the conflict again. Technically, Congress never declared war but acted instead upon the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1964, providing President Lyndon Baines Johnson authority to commit more troops to the conflict. Johnson inherited the conflict from President John F. Kennedy, who in turn had inherited the war from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Even though he's anti-Communist and said he'd serve in Vietnam again, Clark remembers President Eisenhower's farewell address, in which he warned of the "military-industrial complex."

"That rung a lot of bells," Clark noted.

"This time as an old person I would want to know what the results would be," Clark said, emphatically saying he didn't want any "dilly dallying around" and "sticking around for 10 years."

The local vet said "supplies came in North Vietnam and Hanoi. It was a shipping port. They (the Vietcong) marched them down the Ho Chi Minh Trail."

"You should try to win the war," Clark said.

He frowns a bit at some of the supply decisions commanders and others made.

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"I wouldn't have landed my helicopter in a wooded area," Clark said. "For one thing, helicopters cost too much."

Serving his community

These days, Clark volunteers as a reserve police officer at the Reedsport Police Department.

"I'm one of them," he said.

"These are great people. They're courageous people. They respond to violent situations. Their manners are good, all in all," Clark observed.

For Clark, his mantra is simple and is written across his bright yellow safety vest as he bikes around Reedsport.

"Do Good."

Four years ago, Clark added the phrase to his vest to give a slogan to the attention he received picking up trash around Reedsport. What began as a way to get more exercise as he grew older has turned into an identity for him around town.

"I've been called Do Good-er, Mr. Do Good, along with others," said the vet.

Throughout the years of picking up trash, many people waved or thanked him as he loaded the garbage can attached to his bike. While collecting trash, the veteran even came face to face with a stranger who took his mantra to heart. A woman stopped to thank Clark to credit him for inspiring her to track down the owner of a wallet she found at the grocery store.

"Now that made it all worthwhile," Clark said. "That one incident, I think, made four to five years of picking up trash all worthwhile."

Soon, he started volunteering elsewhere in the community, eventually leading him to helping at the police station. Clark assists with fingerprinting, code enforcement violations and vacation checks. He also serves as bailiff for the municipal court.

However in November 2016 Clark's commitment to Reedsport took a giant step when he became a sworn reserve officer.

Reedsport Police Chief Duane Wisehart approached Clark with another opportunity, transporting prisoners to the county jail in Roseburg. Clark now makes that three-hour round trip that would otherwise take an operational officer away from Reedsport.

Unlike many South Coast residents, Clark is uniquely qualified to serve as a reserve police officer. That's because he worked more than a decade in the California corrections system. Regardless, Wisehart conducted a full background check on Clark and Clark himself finished a variety of training courses, including firearms, use of force, CPR and First Aid.

"I feel 100 percent unequivocally comfortable with having him transport a prisoner, or doing anything around here," the police chief said.

Clark's growing volunteerism likewise is growing his wardrobe.

"I have lots of uniforms," the veteran said.

"Serving my town is kind of like serving my country," Clark emphasized. "I mean, let's face it. We can't all do the big, huge things. Sometimes we do little bitty things...even picking up tissue along the road. I'm not above that."

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The Umpqua Post Editor Shelby Case can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 296 or shelby.case@theworldlink.com.

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