WASHINGTON, D.C. — When former President George H.W. Bush was laid to rest, Wednesday, Dec. 5, two of Sidney’s native sons were among the military who assisted with the funeral.
Army Pfc. Jay Clark and Air Force Senior Airman Caleb Smith each had a part to play in the solemn proceedings.
Smith, a vehicle operator, drove the bus that carried the Air Force honor guard to Arlington National Cemetery.
Clark is a member of the Army honor guard. Still in training to participate as a casket bearer at state funerals, he served as a backup pall bearer for the late president.
Both men are Sidney High School graduates: Clark in 2017 and Smith in 2014. Both decided during their senior years at Sidney High to join the military. And both had ancestors who influenced their choices.
“My grandfather, Mike Clark, is a Vietnam vet. He helped me a lot with that decision,” Clark said.
Smith echoed the thought.
“My great-grandpa was in the Air Force,” he said. “That influenced my decision. That was a big part of it.”
Smith is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Morningside, Maryland. He is the son of Jessica and Anthony Smith and Ova and Dave Keys, all of Sidney. His wife is the former Katelyn Wilkins.
“Most of the time, I drive big coach buses with the guys with the rifles who do funerals in Arlington,” he said by phone, Thursday. “My base has the only executive driver service in the Air Force. We drive generals, senators, foreign diplomats. I’m on the base where Air Force 1 (the president’s plane) is.”
His job has taken him to, as he says, “awesome places,” including the White House and the Pentagon.
“I’m going to Alabama next week,” he noted. “Sometimes, it’s a bit surreal that it’s normal for me to go to these places.”
Clark is stationed at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia.
“I’m a casket-bearer for fallen soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery,” he said by phone, Thursday. “My unit is tasked with doing state funerals. I have a mentor who’s teaching me how to do those state funerals.”
Clark said that taking soldiers and veterans to their final resting places every day is humbling.
“You have one job: to put on the best carry, the best flag fold, for this very sad family. It gives a different perspective of military life,” he added.
For the funeral of America’s 41st president, he particpated in practice runs with a prop casket. He knew he would be going with the team for the real thing.
“Getting to do that was a neat experience, just to be there,” he said. “I was always a big history buff.”
His mom, Jennifer Clark, of Sidney, claims responsibility for that.
“I’m big into presidential stuff, and it’s rubbed off on him,” she said. “It’s a big deal that he got selected for the honor guard. I’m thrilled for him. He’s always been a great kid. He’s got a lot of people behind him who are very proud of him.”
Smith, too, realized the weight of the moment.
“It’s a great experience that I get to do the things that I do,” he said. “(The president’s funeral) was a sad event. I was honored to be able to participate.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.