It's been 53 years, but Greg Clark (85MA) still remembers the day like it was yesterday.
March 13, 1968.
Clark was driving the lead vehicle near a military compound in Binh Phouc, Vietnam, when he hit a landmine and veered off into a rice field. "The next thing I knew I couldn't see—I thought I had gone blind," says Clark, who was a combat engineer during the Vietnam War. "Thankfully, I just couldn't see because of all the dirt and mud that was in my eyes."
Along with three others, Clark was loaded into a medivac helicopter and flown to a military hospital in Saigon, Vietnam. He was fortunate in that he sustained only a few wounds on his hands and legs, had tinnitus, and experienced short-term hearing loss. This dangerous moment in Vietnam, though, had a big impact on what Clark would pursue professionally.
"Even though I was wounded when my vehicle hit a landmine, my fear level up to that point was relatively minimal compared to those who were out in the jungle for extended periods of time. So many troops had it much worse than I did," says Clark. "Vietnam planted a seed and fostered a compassion for those who actually did what I was prepared to do but was fortunate enough to not have to do: combat. In turn, it played a role in my path forward."
Clark, of Garnavillo, Iowa, pursued a psychology degree at the University of Northern Iowa and eventually came to the University of Iowa to earn a master's degree from the counselor education program—all the while working full-time as a pilot with Lifeguard Air Ambulance service in Cedar Rapids. He chose Iowa because of a lifetime love for the university.
"I've always considered myself a Hawkeye fan, and I had planned to go to the University of Iowa," says Clark. "Iowa's counseling education program exposed me to different components of being a counselor and different types of counseling—family, marriage, individual, and group counseling. I graduated with a well-rounded sense of confidence."
In 1985, Clark was hired by the federal government to create what is now known as the Cedar Rapids Vet Center, an outreach program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that provides individual and group counseling to veterans, service members, and their families. Throughout his career in Cedar Rapids and in private practice, Clark—now retired—worked with nearly 1,000 veterans.
"My heart has always been with, and for, the veterans," says Clark. "My late wife, Joanne, always referred to my veteran clients as my friends. There is a bond and brotherhood between veterans, and that is why my wife and I decided to help those veterans who are trying to better themselves by establishing these gifts—and hopefully these veteran students will be encouraged by the awareness that others do care about them."
Through a bequest in their estate plans, the Clarks have established the Joanne and Gregory Clark Memorial Veterans Support Fund and the Joanne and Gregory Clark Memorial Scholarship Fund. The funds will benefit University of Iowa students who are veterans and will provide student aid, academic programming, or instructional technology that enhances the educational experience.
"Over the years, I've learned the importance of giving and the wisdom and benefits of it—everyone wins when you do," says Clark. "I would hope our giving helps future veterans and military personnel improve their quality of life as well as motivates them to give back as well."