The 36th Division Archive
Private First Class William A. Clark Jr.
Heavy Machine Gun Section, H Company
William A. Clark was born in 1917 to a working-class family just outside the town of New Castle, Pennsylvania. His father worked in the nearby tin mill and spent many of his days toiling in the industry in order to provide for William and his whopping seven siblings. Although the family subsisted at first, the toll of the great depression meant that William had to leave high school after only two years of study to take on work in order to financially sustain his loved ones. This work came in a variety of forms but a stint of it was spent working various local projects for the Rooseveltian Works Progress Administration. Here he worked, alongside local odd jobs, until he married his wife Theresa in the year before war broke out in the United States.
While war raged William continued working to support his new family, however, the tides caught up with him and he was officially drafted into the U.S. Army in September of 1943. He spent the next few months doing his training before getting shipped overseas to join the 36th Infantry Division for the ongoing assault in Italy. Upon arrival in March 1944, he was attached as a member of a heavy machine gun team to H Company, the heavy weapons company, of the 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment. By this time the division had already been through several major engagements but had taken many casualties whom William was intended to replace. Through the next few months he became acquainted with the life of a combat infantryman and by June of 1944 was ready to join the division for the liberation of the first Axis capital: Rome.
The final drive into the Eternal City was undertaken by several U.S. divisions, but the 36th took the lead as the center of the line. Tasked with pushing through a strong line of resistance, William’s regiment was tasked with driving on the left flank of the advance through the historied Alban Hills. Here the German 352nd Infantry Division had set up a series of defensive lines as the majority of the army retreated towards Rome. Unlike the rest of the Italian campaign, the moderate Italian weather shined bright on the T-Patchers as they began their assault on 1 June 1944.
The 142nd attack consisted of fights throughout a series of hills, valleys, and the scattered villages dotting the landscape. William and the 2nd Battalion found their first objective at Mount Spina, the second-highest ridge in the range, which had been occupied by a German garrison. The fighting was intense and amidst the conflict, the battalion CO was killed and the S-3 wounded. Taking on temporary leadership, the fight pushed on and took the mountain before immediately moving towards the primary objective in the Albans, Monte Cavo. Surrounded by a series of low-lying valley plains, Monte Cavo sat as the highest peak until one reached Rome. At the top of the mountain sat a small Monastery. Although ancient, the monastery still stood albeit as a regional hotel by the time the war began. At this point in the conflict, however, it had been occupied by the German army to turn into a massive radio transmission station, a natural transition given its strategic location in the plains and valleys outside Rome. Now garrisoned by a reduced company of the 352nd, the outpost was directing commands to the entire German force defending Rome and was slated to be neutralized. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 142nd were tasked with doing so and thus began their approach through the forested valley floor.
By the early morning of 3 June the 2nd Battalion had reached the mountain and began making their way up it for the initial assault. Arriving at 0500, the men found themselves facing an ancient 6-foot-high stone wall covered in Ivy surrounding a compound of several stone buildings. The Germans inside had been there for several days and as such were well supplied with ammunition, mortars, and machine guns. Although smaller in size, the garrison managed to turn the outpost into a small fortress with automatic weapons bristling from every window. As the 2nd Battalion began to encircle the stronghold the Germans opened up and a great firefight ensued. Holding the stone wall around the buildings, the T-Patchers fought defenders determined to go until death as bullets peppered the air and grenades were chucked from every nook and cranny. William, part of a heavy machine gun team, was attached to one of the infantry companies and slated to provide suppressing fire support for the rifleman attempting to breach the citadel. While acting in the performance of these duties, however, a German machine gun sighted his team and sprayed them with a hail of fire. Tragically, one of these rounds struck William on the front of his face, killing him instantly amidst the chaos.
The battle raged on for several more hours before a team from G Company was able to sneak inside and dislodge the defenders. Although the assault team took few casualties, William was amongst several the battalion suffered in the fighting to get inside. With the mountaintop taken, German communications were severely crippled and the way into Rome made that much more secure. In fact, it was William’s battalion selected by the division to be one of the first to enter the capital less than 24 hours later. Taken by graves registration, William’s body was moved to be interned at what would become the American Sicily-Rome Cemetery in Nettuno where he continues to lay alongside his comrades to this day. At the same time, they took William for burial, his brother, John, was preparing to drop into Normandy with the airborne. He likely received the news a few weeks after the landings. Back home William’s wife received the infamous Western Union telegram declaring his death on 22 June 1944, notifying the local paper a day later. William was only 30 years old at the time he was killed, but the impact of his sacrifice will last forever.