Cecilia Leonard believes Todd J. Clark would have wondered about Monday’s reverent and patriotic military reception in Albany County.
“He’d probably be embarrassed by it all and say ‘Why are we making such a fuss?’ ” said Colonie resident Leonard, a friend of the Clark family. “He was a very humble guy.”
Hundreds of people decided to make a respectful fuss over Clark — U.S. Army Lt. Col. Todd J. Clark — who died in Afghanistan on June 8. Clark’s remains were returned home on a chartered flight from Dover, Del. that arrived at Albany International Airport just before 10 a.m. Family members, about 100 flag-bearing members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle club and a bagpiper who played “Going Home” were all nearby as Clark’s flag-draped, brown wooden casket was rolled — with military escort — to a waiting black hearse.
Clark, 40, was one of three American training officers killed when a man in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on them following an argument at an Afghan National Army base. The shooting took place several months into Clark’s latest deployment as an adviser with the 10th Mountain Division.
Clark grew up in Albany and was a 1990 graduate of Christian Brothers Academy in Colonie. He is survived by his wife, Shelley, and his two teenage children, Madison and Collin.
With a motorcade that included 77 motorcycles, police and family members, Clark’s hearse traveled Albany Shaker Road, Sand Creek Road and Airline Drive before turning into CBA. Many people lined streets along the route to show respect for the fallen soldier.
About 300 people watched the homecoming at CBA, where the front sign read “A grateful nation and your CBA family thank you and mourn your sacrifice.” Members of the school’s junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program lined the main driveway as motorcycles and hearse passed. Near the entrance to the school, the hearse paused as about 100 Patriot Guard members — some had ridden double on motorcycles — hoisted flags and formed an L-shaped escort into the school. A military honor guard took the casket into the school, where calling hours were held Monday afternoon and evening.
Funeral services with full military honors will be held today at 1:30 p.m. at St. Madeleine Sophie Church in Guilderland. Funeral services also will take place Thursday and Friday in San Antonio, Texas with interment in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
The flight to Albany was paid for by the U.S. government. Clark’s remains will be flown to Texas on Wednesday, courtesy of Southwest Airlines — according to officials from New Comer-Cannon Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements.
Rob Groelz, assistant principal at CBA, said exams at the school concluded before the funeral procession arrived. “We owe it to a brother, a graduate who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the things we enjoy on a daily basis,” Groelz said of the turnout at the school.
“It’s important because it’s the right thing to do,” said Bill Schaaf, 66, of Troy, an Army veteran and ride captain for Monday’s Patriot Guard assembly. “Unfortunately, we’ve done way too many of these in the Capital District. It’s still impactful, every time you see it. There’s just something about the military losing one of its finest and seeing how he’s being brought home in a dignified manner. It’s always very emotional for our guys.”
John Leavitt of Carlisle in Schoharie County said the rides and flags are ways to salute a hero.
“He served multiple tours overseas and obviously had been wounded and didn’t have to go back,” said Leavitt, 66, a Vietnam War veteran. “He chose to go back and serve his country. It was the least we could do.”
Sandi Ogden, whose daughter Marissa Strock lost both legs after being wounded in Iraq in 2005, was among the Patriot Guard responders.
“Everybody stood up and had our back for that,” said Ogden, who lives in Sand Lake. “Time to pay it forward.”
She said her daughter, formerly of Troy and now living in Virginia, knows members of the Clark family and will attend’s today’s service at St. Madeleine Sophie.
Ryan Early, 17, of Colonie, a member of the junior R.O.T.C. program at CBA, was one of the cadets standing at attention as Clark’s body returned to his school. “I felt that if all men could give courage like this, to be able to serve and give their lives for us —what more can I ask for?” said Early, a senior.
David Erickson, a retired Army major who leads the R.O.T.C. group, described it as a leadership program. Most of the members, he added, begin college careers.
“It’s strange to say, but he’s still teaching people what it means to serve,” Erickson said of Clark. “For the kids to see that, I think it’s a lesson they’re learning. He’s not here in body, but he’s here in spirit in the sense that he’s telling the boys the old message, freedom isn’t free. I think we’ve forgetten that we’ve been at war for 12 years and we live our lives on a daily basis, and they forget there are people out there every day.”