Sculptor unveils likeness of first Marine EOD technician killed in Iraq War
By KELLY HUMPHREY | Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach | Published: August 12, 2015
EGLIN AFB (Tribune News Service) — According to his widow, Niceville resident Sara Clark, Gunnery Sgt. Michael Clark was a low-key, easy going Marine who didn't like a lot of fuss made over him. On Friday, however, Clark's family and friends gathered at the EOD Memorial Wall to remember him in a unique way.
With the bright Florida sun shining brightly, sculptor Cliff Leonard of Jacksonville unveiled a bust of Clark that memorialized the 29-year-old, who was the first Marine bomb disposal expert killed in the Iraq War. Clark died on July 20, 2004, while serving his second tour of duty in Iraq. He left behind his wife and two daughters.
Leonard, a Vietnam veteran, said he has shed "many a tear" as he has sculpted the likenesses of more than 25 Marines from Florida who were killed during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Semper Fi, little brother," Leonard said as he pulled away the red cloth covering the bust.
Sara Clark smiled as she approached the sculpture, which sat on a table in front of the EOD Memorial Wall. She hugged Leonard and then whispered something to him as she gently touched the top of the sculpture.
"Wow," she said softly. Clark's 17-year-old daughter, Victoria, stood at her mother's side, quietly examining the bust. Clark's second daughter, 14-year-old Emelie, was unable to attend the ceremony.
"I always sculpt my little brothers with eyes right," Leonard told the crowd. "For those of you who aren't in the military, when a Marine is marching past a reviewing stand, they face to the right as a sign of respect to the dignitaries there. As I was working on his sculpture, I could imagine Mike marching through the heavenly gates, eyes right."
Leonard hopes to create at least 40 more busts for the families of fallen Marines. He travels across the country at his own expense to deliver the likenesses to the Marines' loved ones.
After much consideration, Sara Clark decided to donate the bust of her late husband to a museum at Camp Pendleton in California, where a building is named in Clark's honor. Maj. Donald Pilcher, one of Clark's comrades in Iraq, shared his memories with the crowd gathered at the memorial wall.
"Thank you for this gift," Pilcher said. "All of us at the 1st EOD Company will take very good care of him."
©2015 Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) Visit the Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.) at www.nwfdailynews.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.