This is not an ordinary obituary. But Hoyt Clark was not an ordinary human being. It is difficult, if not impossible, to convey the essence of a beautiful soul in a few short columns of newspaper text. As difficult as it is, as his family and all those who loved him, these short words are an attempt to share not just the events of his life, but also who he was and why his example is one to which we should aspire.
Hoyt Evans Clark, healthy and active until his last day, passed away on Aug. 6, 2017, a few short hours after suffering a severe stroke at age 91.
He was born on Nov. 27, 1925, to Gladys Butler Clark and Harry Doane Clark in Northeast Harbor, where he grew up. At age 16, on Dec. 7, 1941, his life was interrupted by a stern radio voice relaying news of the shocking aerial attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. By his own admission, as a shy and quiet teenager, Hoyt was not initially drawn to the glory and prestige of military enlistment, but his love of airplanes, coupled with convincing wartime propaganda and the naiveté of youth won out. On Nov. 3, 1943, just over three weeks before his 18th birthday, Hoyt joined the Army Air Corps. The next two years would alter his life and his outlook on humanity irrevocably.
Hoyt’s dream of becoming a fighter pilot was not to be. Soon after enlisting and much to his disappointment, Hoyt discovered that there was no need for additional pilots in the Army Air Corps and he would be sent to gunnery school instead. After completing gunnery school and being shipped around the country several times, Hoyt arrived at Rattlesnake Field in Pyote, Texas, and was assigned as a blister gunner to the crew he would spend the remainder of the war with. On March 10, 1945, Hoyt and his crew shipped out to the Pacific and were assigned to the 313th Wing, 505th Group, 482nd Squadron on the island of Tinian.
Over the course of the next five months, Hoyt and his crew flew 27 harrying missions on a B-29 bomber, dropping bombs over Japan. By late summer, everyone knew the Japanese were fighting a losing battle, and on Aug. 14, 1945, rumor had it that the Japanese emperor was contemplating imminent surrender. Alerted to maximum effort, Hoyt and his crew, as they readied for flight, expected at any minute to get the news that the war was over and for the mission to be called off. That news never came, and once the day darkened into night, Hoyt and his crew took off on what was to be their final mission. Hoyt wrote in his memoirs of the solid orange flame that consumed the cities bombed earlier in the day in contrast to the complete darkness of the nameless, defenseless town they bombed on that last night. He recalled, “I don’t have to imagine those square miles that burned. I saw them burning, almost as far as the eye could see, but I cannot envision those numbers of people killed.” By the time Hoyt and his crew had returned to base on Aug. 15, 1945, Japan had surrendered.
Although the war and Hoyt’s role in it had come to a close, tragedy still followed. On Aug. 16, a bright clear day, his crew was posted for a test flight. As only a skeleton crew was needed, Hoyt himself was not required to go. Just after takeoff, the plane experienced an unknown malfunction and crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing all on board save one of Hoyt’s crewmembers. Hoyt heard that there had been a crash, but it was not until the evening, when his crew did come back in time for dinner, that he learned it was his plane. The utter tragedy of this loss haunted him for the rest of his life. He would always wonder, “Why them? Why now? Why not me?”
After two years and 23 days of service in the Army Air Corps, Hoyt was honorably discharged and returned home to Northeast Harbor. He wrote of coming home, “Our town was at the end of the road on the doorstep of the Atlantic Ocean. I think that my horizons had been stretched so wide that I couldn’t yet shrink them in the confines of the town I had grown up in. Those feelings didn’t dim the joy I felt when I was dropped off at the end of my driveway seeing my mother, still in her dressing robe, followed by my father and sister, as they rushed down the driveway to greet me. I was home again.”
After his return from the war, Hoyt enrolled at the University of Maine and completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He then moved to Connecticut, where he worked for W.S. Rockwell, an industrial heating equipment company, traveling around the country as the company’s head estimator, meeting with clients and custom designing commercial furnaces and heating systems.
Although accomplished, Hoyt in his 40s was as shy and quiet as he had been as a teenager, and he expected to spend his life as a bachelor. However, with a little help from his matchmaking mother, he met the tenacious and spirited young woman who would eventually become his beloved wife, Rosabel Beach Wells. Hoyt and Rose were married in 1973 and retired to his family home in Franklin. The couple spent the next four decades living a quiet and peaceful life on Hoyt’s family’s beautiful forty-acre parcel of land in rural Maine, and, for a time, wintered happily in Florida.
He and Rose settled comfortably into retired life, and Hoyt spent much of his free time caring for his beautiful and flourishing vegetable gardens (about which he was modest to a fault), enjoying walks with his neighbors, spending time with his childhood friends Clifford Manchester and George LaPaire, and (unbeknownst to him) generally making an impact on those who were touched by his unusual graciousness and open heart.
What shaped his life perhaps more than the war was his faith in the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ. Hoyt’s memories of the war and the innocent people who were killed by his actions haunted him always, but he found peace in the love of Christ. He was incredibly inquisitive and studied the Bible meticulously, trying to understand and to emulate its teachings and to reconcile the perpetual cruelty of humankind with the love of Jesus Christ.
Toward the end of his life, and especially after Rose passed away in the spring of 2016, his neighbors Jenna and Roland Shorey and their three children checked in on Hoyt nearly every day and regularly brought him home-cooked meals (which he loved). The Shoreys quickly made their way into Hoyt’s heart and he treasured his relationship with them. In recalling the time she and her family spent with Hoyt, Jenna Shorey relayed, “We have many special memories, but I think it’s safe to say that every visit was special… sitting at the table, just talking. Hoyt had a way and a peace about him… you just felt blessed to have had shared the time with him.”
As none of us are, Hoyt was not perfect. But unlike most of us, he was openly willing to listen, to empathize, and to learn. His gentleness, warmth, strength, and patience were unparalleled. Despite the horrors and tragedy of the war that shaped his life, he never lost his faith in humankind and actively practiced love toward all people, whether friend or enemy. No passage better illustrates Hoyt’s conviction and creed than Colossians 3:12-14 – Put on therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Hoyt Evans Clark, beloved husband, uncle, friend, and mentor was truly the best of humanity, and his loss is felt deeply and profoundly by all those who loved him. He was predeceased by his wife, Rose, his older sister Wilma Clark Eaton, an infant brother and sister, and his nephew Lawrie Eaton. He is survived by his two nephews, Marshall Eaton of Northeast Harbor and Rob Eaton of Los Alamos, N.M.; four grandnieces, Jill, Kris, Jennifer and Hilary, six great-grandnieces and nephews, and numerous friends and fellow church members.
A memorial service will be held on Oct. 21, 2017, at 11 a.m. at the United Baptist Church of Ellsworth, 28 Hancock St., in Ellsworth.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Hoyt’s name, to the United Baptist Church of Ellsworth, to support the ministries that Hoyt devoted much of his time to.
Arrangements by Jordan-Fernald, 1139 Main St., Mount Desert. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.