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MG Mary E. Clarke dies

Monday, August 01, 2011

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 are 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 ranking female 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 was held June 22 at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, with full military honors.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in her name to the Army Women’s Museum, 2100 Adams Ave., Building P-5219, Fort Lee, VA, 23801-2100.