Shot Overseas Heard Loudly At Home

Remembering Randy, photo by Kevin Featherly

Remembering LCPL Randy Clark (1964-1983), Photo by Kevin Featherly

Eau Claire, Wis. Sept, 22, 1983Randy’s dead. Does anybody know why Randy’s dead?

Randy Wayne Clark, born July 20, 1964, in La Crosse. Moved to Minong shortly thereafter. All-conference football player for Northwood Evergreens. Honor student, graduated from Northwood High School, May 30, 1982. Marine. Recipient of Expert Shooting Badge, the highest given; a good conduct medal; a deployment ribbon; an expeditionary medal for service in Lebanon; and a Purple Heart. A “model Marine.”

Randy Wayne Clark, died Sept. 6, 1983.

He’s been described almost unanimously as “quiet, thoughtful, dependable.” … Always had time to say “hi.” A decent dude. A good man.

A little kid.

Randy wouldn’t care to have me say that. He might get a little bit angry, though in the 12 years I knew him I can’t remember seeing him really mad at anybody–unless he was wearing an opponent’s football jersey.

Randy considered himself an adult and a Marine, and he earned the title. But his age doesn’t lie. He was only 19, and 19 is too young to be dead. Two young to fight in a stranger’s war.

Does anybody know why Randy’s dead?

Cluck, his nickname, went to the Marines on Sept. 6, 1982. He left Minong proud, drunk and ready to face the real world. He came out of basics a lance corporal, a full-fledged member of the few and the proud. He loved his job and he believed in it.

In the six months after his basic training, he saw much of the world and had a blast. In early May 1983, his orders came through. He was to be assigned to Naples, Italy. Pretty country. Peaceful country.

Then somebody started bombing somebody else in Lebanon.

He was allowed to come home once before being shipped off to Beirut on May 27.

Cluck was bummed. He knew the situation in Beirut, knew what to expect, and knew the risks. But it didn’t ease the worry. He joined the Marines partially on the advice of friends and teachers, and partially because work was scarce.

However, I don’t think he seriously considered that death could be part of the three-year plan. Now it was all-too apparent. He did not want to go.

James Clark, Randy’s dad, told USA Today that his son was “apprehensive, very much so” about being stationed in Lebanon. Even so, he would never consider going back on his obligations. He was a good Marine. He decided he’d go. He’d serve his country. He’d die if need be.

I saw him for the last time the day he left, for just a few brief minutes that morning.

He and a friend, Roy Wentzel, picked me up in front of the high school. We talked about women, football and Old Style. I could sense Randy was nervous. After a couple minutes, he told me he had to get going, because his mother was waiting for him.

“Keep your head low,” I remember saying. “Those bullets over there are for real, man.”

For a second he looked down at the car seat. Then abruptly he raised his head, eyes bright, with a familiar, easy smile spread across his large, narrow face. “Don’t worry, Featherly. They can’t shoot through hide made of steel.”

“OK,” I said. We both laughed. Then he was gone.

It was to fellow football teammate Al Green that Randy finally gave into his fear. Just before leaving for the airport, he turned to Al as if to say goodbye. Instead he said, “I’m not coming back, Al.”

It keeps coming back to me that he knew. He knew all along. I can’t believe it.

Does anybody know why Randy’s dead?

There’s a fight going on in the Middle East. The Lebanese Army, the Christian militia, countless Moslem factions. … Who cares? Should we be there to bleed beside them?

Said Jim Clark: “If somebody could tell me why they should be there, I might change my mind. But right now I can see no reason why those boys should be there so they can be picked off one at a time.”

Those words echo the sentiments of a lot of people who knew Randy, and those who knew Pedro Valle and Alex Ortega and Donald Losey, and those who know all of the 3,200 men now included in President Reagan’s “peacekeeping force.”

Even after talking to the President of the United States, Jim Clark heard no answer to the aching question: Why? Neither has the world. Nor is it likely to.

Why give your best to life when life ends like this? Why Randy? We don’t even know if his life served a purpose.

I can speak for the people of Minong. They are deeply shocked, hurt and at a loss. Randy was well known and liked there. But worst of all, there is anger. And bitterness. We want answers, and they won’t come.

America is at war. It is the young who are dying, though.

Randy Clark is not just Randy Clark, and not just Minong. Randy Clark is you and me and all of the children of this nation, all of whom must now become aware of the possibility of a similar demise. We are this nation’s might and power.

Who among us will be next?

Does anybody know why Randy’s dead?

No. I guess not. I doubt we ever will.

The article above was originally published Sept. 22, 1983, in the UW-Eau Claire Spectator. Its subject is the death of Lance Cpl. Randy Clark, 29 years ago today. The headline, which is original to the story as published, is inaccurate; Randy was not killed by a bullet, but by a mortar round intentionally dropped on the airport where U.S. Marines were stationed outside Beirut. He was killed when the mortar landed near the spot where he and a comrade were walking on patrol outside the main compound. Clark’s death preceded by a little more than one month the deaths of almost 300 Marines killed when a truck bomb rammed their barracks and exploded.

It was the first article I ever had published.


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