Mark C. B. Klunk
Colonel – U.S Army; Deputy Post Commander and
Post Comptroller, Presidio, San Francisco
World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War (1941-1968)
Pearl Harbor Survivor
Mark Klunk walked out of the chapel after Sunday morning serv ice and right into hell. Sixty-eight years later, the impact of that moment hits close to home, as did the bullets from those Japanese planes. Klunk, now 93 and living in Terra Linda, remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor and other parts of the island of Oahu as totally chaotic. Today it remains a symbol of the United States’ lack of readiness to participate in a world war at that time. But that day, Klunk was going to fight as if it were his last day on Earth.
He’s had 68 more years and still meets with fellow Pearl Harbor survivors in Marin County and the Bay Area. Last week he dined with local Pearl veterans John Rauschkolb, George Larsen and Fran Jenkins for a feast at Chalet Basque in San Rafael. On Dec. 7, many of them plan to visit Coast Guard Island in Alameda for a Bay Area-wide ceremony to honor the victims of the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Mike Klunk, Mark’s son and a 25-year Army veteran himself, said his father is humble and does not want to be treated like any sort of hero. “He has always been very modest about all this,” Mike Klunk said. ”He didn’t bring it up – what he did at Pearl Harbor – until about 15 years ago. He was one of a couple million who fought. That’s the way he looks at it.”
When Klunk walked out of the chapel at Schofield Barracks that Sunday morning, the gray planes with large red dots had already barrel-rolled over the U.S. Army installation where Klunk was among those in charge of coastal artillery. The barracks, almost dead center on the island of Oahu, were a scheduled stop on the Japanese flight toward Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, about 14 miles to the south.
“The Zeroes were flying over at treetop level, strafing the camp,” Klunk said. Within minutes, the first wave of the attack was over. A colonel suddenly appeared at Klunk’s tent amid the panic and collected Klunk and two other lieutenants; they would make a mad dash for Pearl in an Army-issue car. They broke every traffic law on the drive through the cane fields and pineapple plantations. They pulled up at the Battery H artillery installation at Fort Weaver, at the southern tip of Pearl’s entrance, right as the second wave began. It turns out one of the officers there had been killed in the first wave.
Klunk was that man’s replacement, and he would man a bone-shaking .50-caliber gun for the next hour. The planes were flying in a big circle, around and around, at different altitudes,” Klunk said. ”When they came around, we’d open up on them. I don’t know if I hit anything or not.”
After the attack was over, there was almost as much chaos. A squadron of B-17s was due in from the mainland, but everybody was firing at anything that moved, Klunk said. By nightfall, the sky was filled with tracer bullets from jittery and trigger-happy men.
Klunk took over command of a 10-man anti-aircraft artillery unit at Battery H and stayed several days, guarding an ammunition stash. ”We lived off cold coffee and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” he said. Then he was ordered to another battery in the cane fields. ”We all figured they were coming back,” he said.
Later, he went through a one-month artillery school in North Carolina, commanded an artillery battalion at Camp Edwards, Mass., for almost a year, then went back to Hawaii and continued to drill new recruits for six months.
On D-Day in Europe, June 6, 1944, Klunk got on board a ship at Pearl Harbor bound for Eniwetok, an atoll in the Marshall Islands that had been the location of a fierce battle five months earlier. About a week after Saipan was conquered, Klunk and his triple-A experts landed there and started firing at attacking Japanese planes. They were the first anti-aircraft artillery to set up on Saipan.
He describes Marines jumping out of their foxholes while under fire to cheer on the Army anti-aircraft crews pumping lead into the sky. They had gone a week without any protection.
Klunk remained stationed at Saipan as a commander, where he watched B-29s take off from nearby Tinian island and saw native islanders commit suicide by jumping off cliffs. In August 1945, two of those Superfortresses dropped atomic bombs on Japan. V-J day was “quite a celebration” to mark the end of the war, he said.
Klunk married his wife, Frances, in January 1946 and spent almost five years stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He witnessed three nuclear blasts in New Mexico, including one from a foxhole just more than a mile from the detonation zone.
He spent time in Washington, D.C., Turkey, Korea and Japan, earned an MBA at Syracuse University, and was a professor of military science at Washington & Jefferson College. After serving as a comptroller at Fort Shafter in Honolulu during the Vietnam War, he retired as a colonel after serving as comptroller/deputy commander of the Presidio in 1968.
The 1940 West Point graduate wrapped up his career as a math teacher at Rancho Cotate and Casa Grande high schools for 12 years. ”That’s when the real combat began,” he said with a laugh. Mike Klunk moved in with his father, a widower since 1995, eight years ago. He said his father has been slow to embrace his celebrity status as a Pearl Harbor survivor.
“He wasn’t all that interested in participating in the meetings at first, but then he found out they were all great guys and they had a common experience among them,” Mike Klunk said. ”He enjoys seeing the widows of the Pearl guys, who are called the Sweethearts. He still gets miffed for being singled out for attention, but I have to say it’s an honor to say my dad is a Pearl Harbor survivor.”
Interview by Brent Ainsworth on December 6, 2009.