The son of a former Belleville resident was killed Thursday in Iraq.
Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Clark, 22, of St. Louis, had served in Iraq for three months before suffering a fatal injury from a roadside bomb last week.
A graduate of Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis, Clark decided to join the military after completing his studies there in 2002, according to his maternal uncle, Todd Chamblin, of Granite City. Clark had previously concluded a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Family members on Sunday most remembered Clark as a renaissance man, reflecting on his broad intellect, interest in history and honest charm.
"He was very intelligent," said Chamblin. "He spoke French and wanted to study philosophy. He could have done anything, but he wanted to be on the front lines."
While a student at Ladue, Clark immersed himself in the performing arts. He acted in versions of "Oklahoma" and "Universal Language," produced by the high school's drama department.
Clark's affection for theater, history and politics dated back to childhood, said his mother, Lee Clark-Hundelt, of St. Charles, Mo., who grew up in Belleville.
"He had a passion for the military from a very young age. He completely understood the symbolism of the flag and the uniform he wore," Clark-Hundelt said. "He wanted to be a Marine because he knew it was the hardest thing to do."
Clark also launched a local modeling career as a child. He appeared in ads for Venture department store and corporate newsletters for various companies. As a fourth-grader, he portrayed George Washington on the cover of "Abe Lincoln for Class President," a Scholastic book published in 1995.
"He was a good kid," Clark-Hundelt said of her only child. "There wasn't anything he wanted that a parent wouldn't want for him, also. We were very close."
Clark's father, Ken Clark, a former Marine, died months after Matthew Clark finished his senior year at Ladue. During that period, Lee Clark-Hundelt remembers admiring her son's strength, faith in God and ability to comfort relatives.
"He had a very clear view of his faith and a very close connection to God," she said. "His friendships were deep and long."
Before joining the Marines, Clark considered entering the priesthood. After his father's death in 2002, the teenager grew a friendship with the Rev. Monsignor Vernon E. Gardin of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, a man he called a mentor.
"He picked up where my father left off," Clark once said, according to his mother.
Gardin will officiate Clark's funeral Mass. Funeral arrangements are pending at Kriegshauser West Mortuary at 9450 Olive Blvd. in St. Louis.
Clark is survived by his mother; grandfather Thomas Chamblin, of Smithton; uncles Thomas Chamblin, of Belleville, and Todd Chamblin, of Granite City; aunt Lynn Llanos, of St. Cloud, Fla.; and cousins who live in Belleville and St. Cloud.
Published in Belleville News-Democrat on Dec. 18, 2006.