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Preston Clark and the USS Houston

Finding Aids, USS Houston & Military History
pages from Lt. Preston Clark's payroll records, including information regarding the deaths of POWs

pages from Lt. Preston Clark’s payroll records, including information regarding the deaths of POWs

We have recently published an update to our Cruiser Houston Collection finding aid to include a series dedicated to the papers and artifacts of Lieutenant Preston R. Clark.  Materials added to the collection include photographs, correspondence from World War II prisoner of war camps, and artifacts from the years spent in the camps.

Lieutenant Clark served on the USS Houston when it was sunk following a bravely defiant stand during the Battle of the Java Sea.  Presumed lost in the aftermath, Lt. Clark and others survived hours of swimming to dry land only to be captured by the Japanese and interned in P.O.W. camps.  Clark remained in captivity for nearly four years where he and others worked on the Thailand-Burma or “Death Railway” (a construction project immortalized in Pierre Boulle’s The Bridge over the River Kwai and the film of the same name).

While in captivity, Clark continued to fulfill his duties as Lieutenant, even maintaining a log of payments to the men under his command while facing extraordinary loss and circumstances beyond hyperbole.  Anecdotally, survivors of the USS Houston and their loved ones speak highly of his leadership and service during those years of imprisonment.  His meticulous records and attention to his duty no doubt helped to bring about balance to pay logs and some degree of normalcy to his men, but also brought a peace to the families and loved ones of those that were lost while held captive, by way of recording details regarding circumstances of death and final resting places for those unable to make it home.

Lt. Preston Clark's records of U.S. Navy and U.S.M.C. deaths

Lt. Preston Clark’s records of U.S. Navy and U.S.M.C. deaths

Clark and many of his men were liberated as the war in the Pacific reached its end.  The documents that came home with Clark, along with the wealth of additional primary sources included in these materials, are sure to provide researchers with fresh insight into the sacrifices offered up by so many.  We encourage you to visit us here in Special Collections, tour the USS Houston exhibit located on the second floor of the M.D. Anderson Library, and survey these updated materials for yourself.

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