A.P. Clark dies at 96; Air Force commander helped lead escape from Nazi POW camp

Lt. Gen. A.P. Clark led the Air Force Academy from 1970 to 1974
(Air Force Academy Special Collections)
Times Staff And Wire Reports

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. A.P. Clark, a World War II veteran who played a key role in the elaborate breakout from a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp that inspired the movie “The Great Escape,” has died. He was 96.

Clark, a former superintendent of the Air Force Academy, died March 8 in Colorado Springs, Colo., the military academy announced. The cause was not given.

Albert Patton Clark was born in 1913 at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, where his father was an officer in the Army Medical Corps.

He became a pilot after graduating from the Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1936. During World War II he flew with the 31st Fighter Group, the first American fighter unit in the European Theater, according to an Air Force Academy biography.


Then a lieutenant colonel, Clark was shot down by German fighter planes over Abbeville, France, in July 1942, and spent nearly three years as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III in what is now Poland. He is credited with managing the production and hiding supplies in support of the escape of 76 POWs from the camp in 1944.

After the war, Clark served key assignments at Tactical Air Command, Continental Air Command and Air Defense Command before completing a tour of duty at the Air Force headquarters, the academy said. He commanded the 48th Fighter Bomber Wing at Chaumont Air Base in France from 1955 to 1956 and then served as chief of staff of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

Clark served as the academy’s top general from Aug. 1, 1970, to July 31, 1974.

His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, the Air Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Purple Heart.

As head of the Friends of the Air Force Academy Library, Clark was instrumental in creating an extensive collection of materials and histories from his prisoner-of-war days. Memoirs, including his “33 Months as a POW in Stalag Luft III,” and histories from an escape at the prison camp inspired the 1963 film “The Great Escape,” starring Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.

Clark is survived by two daughters, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. His wife of 65 years, Carolyn, died in 2002, and a son died in 2005.