Mary E. Clarke

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    - Bev & Ken Kedzierski
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Major General Mary E. Clarke, U.S. Army (Retired), a military pioneer and historic figure, passed away Friday morning, June 10, 2011, at the Army Residence Community, San Antonio, Texas. During her long and distinguished career, she achieved many firsts. She rose through the ranks from Private to Major General and commanded units from detachment level to a major Army post. She retired in 1981 from active duty, but for years was active in Army committees, devoted time to her favorite charities and supported the growth of the Women's Army Corps Museum at Fort Lee, Virginia, after it was relocated from Fort McClellan, Alabama, where she spent much of her career as soldier and leader. General Clarke was born December 3, 1924 in Rochester, New York. Prior to joining the Army, she worked as a secretary and defense worker. She served her nation for more than 36 years from August 1945 to November 1981; having first served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC), until it was disestablished in 1978 when women were fully assimilated as Army soldiers. This was due, in large measure to General Clarke's tireless efforts to gain full recognition and acceptance of Army women during the period when she served as the Women Army Corps' last Director. WAC members were the first women other than nurses to serve within United States Army ranks and women officers for years were restricted from attending ranks higher than Lieutenant Colonel, except the WAC Director and the Army Chief Nurse. After World War II, she served in the Berlin Airlift and later in Tokyo. She obtained a commission through WAC Officer Candidate School and was assigned to progressively higher level jobs, with more responsibility, from the Pentagon to command assignments. She was the Commandant of the Women's Army Corps Center and School at Fort McClellan, Alabama, where from 1972 to 1974 she presided over the expansion of the WAC. In September 1974, she was called back to Washington to serve as Chief of the WAC Advisory Office in the Military Personnel Center. In August 1975, she was promoted to Brigadier General and served as the last Director of the Women's Army Corps, when her office was disestablished in 1981. The Army assigned her in May 1977 to Fort McClellan and promoted her in November to Major General, the first Army woman to attain that rank. Her assignment was historic as it was groundbreaking. She became the first woman to command a major military installation and the first woman Commandant of the U.S. Army Military Police and the U.S. Army Chemical Schools. During her tenure, she made many improvements in the quality and training of soldiers enrolled in basic training and was the subject of immense media interest, especially during the national debate over the role of women in combat. She was summoned before Congress to hear her views and perspective on the subject, as well as Army sexual harassment policies, which were just becoming part of the debate in the larger society, as women were making rapid advances in all aspects of American society. After her final Pentagon assignment as Director of Human Resources Development for the Army Chief of Personnel, she retired from active duty in October 1981, following a ceremony held at her last command, Fort McClellan. She moved to San Antonio in 2001. After retirement, she remained active in various governmental activities and from 1978-1988 was a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Board, United Services Automobile Association. She served in several important posts in Washington, DC. In 1984 she was appointed by the Secretary of Defense to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services and was elevated to Vice Chair in 1986. In 1989 she became a member, later Chair, of the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans. In 1992, she was a member of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. Over her career, General Clarke earned many top Defense Department medals, chief among them the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. She was widely admired by young female soldiers and her uniform was exhibited in a Pentagon display commemorating vital contributions of Army women pioneers. Army women considered her a role model for her efforts to expand roles for women and to gain recognition for the value of their contributions to Army manpower needs and the national defense. It took the Army 18 years to promote the next woman to two-star General Officer rank and several wore General Clarke's own dual-stars to preserve the legacy. Her many friends, colleagues, and former staff members remember her as a General who showed strong concern and compassion for military families and training of soldiers. She was instrumental in bringing about equality for women during a critically important period when women were being fully assimilated into the Army establishment and needed a senior female officer to speak for issues pertaining to Army women. History will remember her as a woman who joined the Army in World War II as a Private in the Women's Army Corps and retired as the Army's senior woman officer on active duty. She was preceded in death by her parents; her stepfather; a sister, Margarete Clarke; and a brother, Richard J. Clarke. General Clarke's survivors include her longtime friend, Maida Lambeth; sister, Beverly Ann Bareis and husband Gary Bareis Sr., of Lakeside, California; her brother, Thomas Clarke and wife, Georgina, of Rochester, New York; sister-in-law, Jeannette Clarke, of Rochester, New York; nieces and nephews, Kathleen Goodwill, Gary Bareis Jr., Scott Clarke, and Elaine Zahn. She is also survived by several great-nieces and nephews. Graveside service will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 22, 2011, at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with full military honors, 1520 Harry Wurzbach. In lieu of flowers her friends, family and admirers are requested to send a contribution in her memory to the Army Women's Museum, 2100 Adams Avenue, Building P-5219, Fort Lee, Virginia 23801-2100 or a charity of choice. You are invited to sign the Guestbook at
Published in The Anniston Star on June 19, 2011
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