Clarke, Mary, MG

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Last Rank
Major General
Last Service Branch
General Staff
Last Primary MOS
0002-General Officer
Last MOS Group
General Officer
Primary Unit
1978-1981, 00GC, US Army Military Police School (USAMPS)
Service Years
1945 - 1981
General Staff
Major General

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

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Home State
New York
New York
Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by SFC Edwin Sierra to remember Clarke, Mary, MG USA(Ret).

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Contact Info
Home Town
Date of Passing
Jun 10, 2011
Location of Interment
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery (VA) - San Antonio, Texas
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Section 50A, Site 127

 Official Badges 

Army Staff Identification US Army Retired US Army Retired (Pre-2007) Women's Army Corps

 Unofficial Badges 

Cold War Medal Military Police Hall of Fame Cold War Veteran

 Military Associations and Other Affiliations
National Cemetery Administration (NCA)
  2011, National Cemetery Administration (NCA)

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity:

Maj. Gen. Mary E. Clarke, USA, Ret., the last director of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and the first woman to attain the rank of major general, died June 10 at the Army Residence Community in San Antonio, Texas. She was 87.

Known as a military pioneer and historic figure, she joined the Army’s Women’s Army Corps during World War II, rose from the rank of private to major general and commanded units from detachments to a major Army installation -- Fort McClellan, Ala. -- where she became the first woman to command an Army post and the first woman to serve as commandant of the U.S. Army Military Police School and the U.S. Army Chemical School.  Following her retirement in October 1981 as the director of human resources development, Office, Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, Department of the Army, she supported the development and growth of the Women’s Army Corps Museum first at Fort McClellan, and then after it relocated to Fort Lee, Va.

The WAC was disestablished in 1978 at the conclusion of her tour as a brigadier general and the last WAC director, when women were fully assimilated into the force as Army soldiers.  “All of us who knew Major General Mary Clarke are saddened by her passing and we salute her for her selfless service to our nation and for her singular and distinguished career where being a ‘first’ was the hallmark of her life’s work,” Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., president of the Association of the United States Army, said.
Adding, “She was a soldier who understood the burdens of soldiering while moving a very large institution – our Army -- into the modern world. Major General Clarke served in uniform for 36 challenging years with distinction followed by 30 more years as a retired officer.
We honored by her service on the Association’s Council of Trustees during the late 1980s and early 1990s that was of particular importance. And, this was followed by her membership on AUSA’s Advisory Board of Directors.  “By my calculation, she served our Army and our nation for over sixty years and will always be known in the Army as a selfless, courageous and history-making soldier.”

Born in Rochester, N.Y., on Dec. 3, 1924, Clarke worked as a secretary and defense worker before enlisting in the WAC.  After WWII, she served in the Berlin Airlift and then was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant through the WAC Officer Candidate School.  As she rose through the ranks in a wide variety of command and administrative assignments, she began her quest to gain full recognition and acceptance of women in the Army – where women serving in the WAC or Army nurses were restricted from attaining ranks higher than lieutenant colonel, except the WAC director and the chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

From 1972 to 1974, she was the commandant of the Women’s Army Corps Center and School at Fort McClellan where she expanded the WAC before becoming its director.  During this period, the nation was focusing on the role of women in the military as women were making rapid advancements in civilian career fields and all aspects of American society.  Clarke, summoned to testify before Congress, shared her views on this subject, to include the area of sexual harassment that became part of the debate.

After her retirement as the senior woman ranking officer on active duty, she was appointed by the secretary of defense to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service, which she eventually chaired; she chaired the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, and she was a member of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.  A graveside service will be held at 10 a.m., June 22, at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, with full military honors.  In lieu of flowers, contribution may be made in her name to the Army Women’s Museum, 2100 Adams Ave., Building P-5219, Fort Lee, VA, 23801-2100.

Other Comments:

Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Clarke (December 3, 1924 – June 10, 2011) was a United States Army officer who served as the director of the Women's Army Corps. She was the first woman to attain the rank of major general in the U.S. Army. Clarke served in the U.S. Army for 36 years, the longest service of any woman for a U.S. Army career.  Norwich University awarded her with a doctorate in military science in 1978.  Clarke retired in 1981 and was appointed to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.  Clarke was born in Rochester, New York on December 3, 1924.  She attended the Rochester Immaculate Conception Grammar School and Rochester West High School,

Clarke's first jobs were as a secretary and defense worker before she turned twenty-one.  In 1945, at the age of 21, she enlisted in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) just before World War II ended.  Clarke was expecting to serve until the war ended, plus a few additional months.  A male commander stated that it was unlikely she would even make it through the officers training program.  Clarke then decided to stay and made it through the initial training, and then served for 36 years making a career of the U.S. Army and the woman that has served the longest in the military.  Most of this time she spent in the Women's Army Corps.

Clarke attended the WAC Officer Candidate School and after the schooling she became a WAC commissioned officer as a second lieutenant.   Clarke did her basic training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School in Iowa. Upon completion of basic training she was then immediately assigned to being a supply sergeant at Camp Stoneman, California. Her next assignment was in 1948 at Berlin, Germany. While in Berlin she was in the middle of the Berlin Airlift crisis.  She then served at the U.S. Army Chemical Center and Valley Forge General Hospital. Clarke then recruited for a year. Then she served two years at a WAC unit as a commanding officer in Tokyo before going back to the United States.

Clarke then held several officer's positions from 1958 through 1971 in Texas, Alabama, Maryland, California and Washington, D.C. In Washington, D.C., she worked at the Office of Equal Opportunity and Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. She also did WAC training and advisement. Clarke was promoted to colonel in 1972 to become the commander of the U.S. WAC Center and School in Fort McClellan
In 1974 she was the chief of the WAC Advisory Office. In 1975 Clarke became brigadier general and served as the final director of the WAC. In 1976 she had special courses at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School to prepare women to attend military academies, since women were then allowed to attend by an executive order of President Gerald Ford.

Clarke was the last director of the WAC (1975–1978) until it was dissolved at the end of her tenure in 1978.  She then immediately became commander of the U.S. Army Military Police School and Training Center upon leaving the WAC.  After this assignment she was given the rank of a two-star general and promoted to major general in June of 1978.  Clarke was the first woman to achieve the rank of major general in the U.S. Army Clarke was director of human resources development for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff in Washington, D.C. in 1980. She was there until she retired in 1981. Clarke died June 10, 2011, in San Antonio, Texas. She is buried at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Bexar County, Texas.


Clarke, former McClellan commander, dead at 86
by Brooke Carbo Anniston Star
Jun 14, 2011
Mary Elizabeth Clarke is promoted to major general at Fort McClellan by Lt. Gen. John R. Thurman III on Nov. 1, 1978. (Photo: Anniston Star file)
Mary Elizabeth Clarke is promoted to major general at Fort McClellan by Lt. Gen. John R. Thurman III on Nov. 1, 1978. (Photo: Anniston Star file)
Maj. Gen. Mary Clarke, who became an icon of women’s rights when she was appointed Commander of Fort McClellan, died Friday at her home in San Antonio, Texas. She was 86.

On May 18, 1978, Clarke was named commander of McClellan, making her the first woman ever to command a major U.S. military installation. Six months later, she made history again by becoming the nation's first female two-star general.

Clarke joined the army in 1945 near the end of WWII, enlisting with the Women’s Army Corps. Moving quickly up the ranks from private to major general, she retired 36 years later with a legacy unmatched at the time. She is remembered by friends, colleagues and generations of military women as a remarkable leader and inspiring role model.

Retired Army Col. Maida Lambeth met Clarke when she was stationed at Fort McClellan in 1967 as Clarke was wrapping up her stint as commanding officer of the WAC Training Battalion. Although Lambeth said their service at McClellan overlapped by just three weeks, they became lifelong friends.

She remembers her friend as a great leader.

“She knew how to get the best out of people,” Lambeth said. “She loved it. She just really loved it.”

Claudia Kennedy, a retired lieutenant general, served under WAC commander Clarke for three years at Ft. McClellan.

Kennedy described the time during which Clarke made her ascent towards the glass ceiling as one of uncertainty and division.

“A lot of things were changing,” she said.

The WAC was deactivated in 1978 when women were fully integrated into the U.S. Army.

“She was very respected. We knew her and trusted her,” Kennedy explained. “She was able to interpret what was happening for the group.”

Helen Johnston, a retired command sergeant major, was a member of that group. She said that Clarke knew that integration was inevitable and though the WAC would be mourned, it would be a giant leap forward for women soldiers.

“Our hearts were broken,” Johnston said. “But our progress was greatly increased through the efforts of Gen. Clarke.”

WAC commander Clarke took over as commander of Fort McClellan following the WAC’s disestablishment. As the public affairs officer at Ft. McClellan under Clarke, retired Col. Sonny Craven recalled the media storm that hit once she took command.

According to Craven, everyone from Annette Funicello’s screenwriter to the Japanese version of Playboy Magazine came to Anniston in search of a juicy story on the new co-ed army.

“But after talking to General Clarke, they were part of the choir,” Craven said.

According to Lambeth, after the secretary of the Army told Clarke she was being promoted to major general he asked her what she would like to do now. She didn’t hesitate.

“She said she would like to command Fort McClellan,” Lambeth recalled. “And voila, there she was.”

Lambeth had retired from the Army and settled just down the road from the base around the time Clarke took over. After Clarke retired in 1981, the two spent the next 20 years residing in Jacksonville before moving to San Antonio in 2001.

“She thought the people of Calhoun County were just wonderful,” she said.

Of Clarke’s many awards and commendations, Lambeth said she was most proud of her Army of Occupation of Germany Medal, which she received for her service in the Berlin Airlift after World War II.

“There are very few people who have that medal,” Lambeth explained. “That was a tough duty.”

After retiring, Clarke continued to champion women in the military. Retired Marine Col. Ron Ray served with Clarke on the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces in 1992. Ray said she fought fiercely to open up opportunities for women in the armed forces. And though they often disagreed, he found her respectful and delightful.

“She made her case with a sense of humor and a glint in her eye.”

In 1996, 18 years after Clarke made history with her second star, Kennedy followed in her old commander’s footsteps, becoming the Army’s second female major general. To mark the occasion, Kennedy said Clarke honored her with an historical memento: her two-star insignia.

“It was such a huge connection to my past,” Kennedy said. “No one had ever done anything like that for me.”

The following year, Kennedy made her own history when she became the first woman to be promoted to three-star lieutenant general. According to Craven, wearing Clarke’s two-star insignia became a tradition for the female major generals following the path she carved out.

As Johnston said of her former commander, “I never knew an officer male or female who could hold a candle to Maj. Gen. Clarke.”

Read more: Anniston Star - Clarke former McClellan commander dead at 86 updated



Army of Occupation Medal 1945-1990 - 2003

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Army of Occupation Medal 1945-1990

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