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Camp Clark

Camp Clark has played a role in every major US conflict from the Mexican border insurrection in 1916 to the present War on Terrorism in Iraq. “In 1916, Camp Clark served as the mobilization point for six thousand of the troops sent to the Mexican border insurrection and to hunt for Pancho Villa in the southwestern United States and Mexico. In 1918, nearly ten thousand men arrived at Camp Clark before being shipped out to Europe to join in the final fighting of World War I (WWI). During World War II (WWII) Camp Clark served primarily as a Prison of War (POW) camp where approximately 5,000 captured Italian and German soldiers were detained. After WWII the camp continued to be used, primarily by the National Guard, for weekend and annual training and maintaining equipment. Currently Camp Clark is training troops and support staff for the war in Iraq.

Camp Clark came into existence after Missouri Governor Joseph W. Folk appointed a commission to select a site for a new training area and headquarters for the Missouri National Guard. This commission consisted of Brigadier General Harvey C. Clark, Commanding General of the Missouri National Guard, Brigadier General James A. De Armand Adjutant General, Missouri National Guard, and Major William L. Chambers, Inspector  - Small Arms Practice. The trio visited Clinton, Sedalia, Columbia, Boonville, and Sweet Springs but finally settled on a site near Nevada” (Fiedler 2003:120-121). On April 28, 1908, the government received title from James Quigley for 320 acres of land located just three miles southwest of Nevada, Missouri. Quigley transferred this land, by warranty deed, to the United States of America for $12,800. During its first years of existence, the training site was known as The State Rifle Range but was also known as Camp Hadley (Fiedler 2003:121), named for Missouri Governor Herbert Spencer Hadley (1908-13). However, on April 21, 1921 the name changed to Camp Clark in honor of Brigadier General Harvey C. Clark (General Order No. 8). Clark was the Commanding General of the Missouri National Guard from 1899 until his death April 11, 1921 and he helped reorganize the Missouri National Guard and relocate its headquarters from Butler to Nevada, Missouri.

The government also made many improvements to the camp between WWI and WWII, including augmenting the camp’s sole water source, consisting of one meager well dug in the first years of its existence. In 1934 the Works Project Administration (WPA), part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, allocated $27,000 to the War Department for improvements at Camp Clark. This project aimed to provide work for the hundreds of unemployed local men in Vernon County and created the permanent structures built from the distinctive stone and red clay tile that served for decades as barracks and other administrative buildings at Camp Clark” (Fiedler 2003:121). The structures at Camp Clark were also all fitted with stamped metal roofs manufactured in Nevada. Only two of these original metal roofs remain today.

During the 1920s, a grass airstrip was added to the northwest corner of Camp Clark. The members of Camp Clark’s aviation unit flew a “Curtiss OX JN-4 ‘Jenny,’ “ purchased by the unit’s officers. Perhaps the most famous member of this group was Captain Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 made the first solo flight across the Atlantic” (Fiedler 2003:121). Apparently, in 1934, plans for an airplane hangar were proposed by Colonel J. F. Brown but it was never built (Vernon County Historical Museum - Jones).

Prior to WWII Camp Clark was used mainly as the site of the Missouri Guard’s summer encampments, and Nevada worked hard to make sure that Camp Clark would be involved in the overall WWII effort. The Nevada Chamber of Commerce actively lobbied for the War Department to utilize Camp Clark in some manner that would bring business and jobs to the area. “In May 1942, the War Department announced that it was allocating $2.5 million to build an ‘alien internment camp’ at Clark. Construction would begin at once. Nevada was electrified by the news” (Fiedler 2003:123-124). Although there were some citizens in the area who opposed the location of an internment camp in their town most of their reservations were overridden by the associated influx of jobs and money. “McCarthy Brothers Construction out of St. Louis won approximately $1.6 million in contracts to create frame barracks, mess halls, guard towers, and wire fencing, and work started only a week later, on June 5, 1942” (Fiedler 2003:126).

The POW camp consisted of three compounds; each designed to hold approximately 1,000 prisoners, and a 200-bed hospital. Two of the three compounds contained 48 structures that were subdivided into four companies. Each company consisted of eight barracks, a mess hall, a store/recreation hall, and a lavatory. One of the three compounds contained 49 structures that had areas designated for officer’s quarters, quarantine, and segregation. Each compound also had structures that were shared between the four companies such as an infirmary, bakery, work building, and a post exchange. The three compounds and the hospital were all “surrounded by a double-wire stockade fence, dotted with eight guard towers equipped with electric signals and powerful searchlights. The inside fence was constructed of barbed wire, while the outer fence, set 12 feet farther out was constructed of hog wire. Both fences were attached to 6-by-6-inch fence posts and had overhanging break-down ‘arms’ on top that were laced with barbed wire. A road ran around the outside of the 2,100-by-2700-foot compound, which was patrolled by military police on horseback” (Fiedler 2003:126; Vernon County Historical Museum - Jones).

The remains of this internment camp, albeit only the foundation piers and concrete slabs of a portion of one of the three compounds built at this camp, may be the last intact WWII POW camp in the country (Gieringer 1992 in Meyer 2002). The camp also had a POW cemetery where Italian and German POWs who died while interned were buried. Reportedly, POWs from Camp Crowder were also interred at the Camp Clark cemetery, because there were no burial grounds at Camp Crowder (Fiedler 2003:264). However, there were fewer than ten burials at Camp Clark. Captain Arthur Pratt, who currently resides in Cut and Shoot, Texas, captured one of these burials on film and shared these photographs with David Fiedler, who allowed us to use them for this report. This funeral was for one of the Nazi POWs and the casket was draped with the Nazi flag and fellow POWs were allowed to attend and salute in their traditional manner. The existence of this traditional Nazi funeral ceremony in a POW camp and on American soil during WWII is somewhat fascinating considering the sentiment towards Nazism at the time. We do not know if this ceremony was a common practice for POW funerals or if this was possibly a special request for a particularly respected officer. The ceremony does suggest a significant respect by the Camp Clark commanders for the enemy and appropriate military custom.

Presently, the State of Missouri owns the northern half and the Federal Government owns the southern half of Camp Clark. This dual ownership was created in December 1945 when the war assets administration declared Camp Clark as surplus property and the Missouri National Guard concurred. In 1946, the Missouri National Guard requested the State of Missouri be given the Northern half of the camp. On December 14, 1949 the northern half plus 23.52 acres of the southern half was transferred to the State of Missouri by the United States of America by a quit claim deed under the 80th congress, public law 829. After WWII, Camp Clark was used for weekend and annual training and maintaining and storing equipment. Personnel trained at Camp Clark thru the Korean War, Vietnam, and presently for the War on Terrorism in Iraq.