Mary Walker Clark is known to longtime KETR listeners as the host of a travel segment that ran for some years. But the retired Paris attorney has been far from idle since that program's run ended. Clark's new book, Landing In My Present, take the reader from the dusty plains of West Texas to the icy heights of the Himalayan Mountains along the Chinese-Indian border. The story explores the life of her father, Second Lieutenant Charles Walker, a U.S. Army Air Forces World War II veteran whose service included piloting planes delivering fuel and other supplies to help China survive the Japanese embargo to the east.
The elder Clark, like many veterans, didn't discuss his service much around the house. A farmer and businessman in the Texas South Plains community of Plainview, Clark died in 1966 an industrial accident when his daughter Mary was only 16 years old. The other children, all boys, were 10, 12, 14 and 17.
Decades later, an encounter with a relative at a family reunion in Lubbock led Mary Walker Clark to a man who flew with her father. That conversation led to a years-long journey highlighted by a 2016 trip to the Chinese and Indian sites where her father and other Americans flew supplies over "The Hump," the dangerously high mountain ranges straddling the border of the two countries.
"I ended up not just learning about his war years, I was able to go back and learn much more about him as a person," Clark said. "So it was really two journeys - an emotional journey to reconnect with him because of his early death, and the later, physical journey, to go to India and China."
In Kunming, China, Clark found that episode of the war well remembered and memorialized, both literally in terms of a monument, a restaurant, and other commemorations, and also in the minds of the descendants of those who survived the dangers and privations of that time.
Clark also found plenty of evidence of the legacy of another Northeast Texan, Major General Claire Chennault, of the famous Flying Tigers fighters, and later the primary U.S. liason with the Republic of China Air Force.
"I was so surprised to go into these museums and start reading about Commerce, Texas, when I'm on the other side of the world," Clark said.
Aside from the satisfaction of deepening her paternal connection and learning about history and culture, Clark also said that the resources she found while writing the book made her excited about the possibilities that exist for researchers today.
"I hope it will give people encouragement to explore about their history," Clark said. "There are ways to find out information . . . you can search and learn much more than you ever thought possible."
Landing In My Present: A Father, a Daughter, and the Singular Himalayan Journey that Reunited Them is available through Hellgate Press, an Oregon-based publisher specializing in military topics.