LAWTON, Okla. – Democratic candidate Wesley Clark (search), who repeatedly touts his military leadership, told a more personal story Sunday as he campaigned with the soldier credited with saving his life in Vietnam.
After worshipping at a Presbyterian church in Oklahoma City, Clark flew through a rainy, gray sky to a rally in Lawton, a military community in the southwestern corner of the state and where the largest employer, the Fort Sill Army base, is slated for possible closure. Oklahoma offers his best, and perhaps only, chance for a win in the seven states voting on Tuesday.
The retired Army general was introduced to supporters by Mike McClintic (search), who pushed Clark to the ground and protected him after Clark was shot during a mission in the jungles of Vietnam in 1970. McClintic was a 22-year-old Army private.
Clark, a 25-year-old infantry company commander at the time, had not seen McClintic since that day.
With McClintic by his side, Clark recalled the firefight.
"I heard this buzzing and my rifle fell out of my hand. I looked down to pick up my rifle and saw a piece of bone sticking out of my hand," Clark said. "I remember saying to Mike, I said, 'My God, I've been shot.' What I remember him saying to me is, 'Well, get down!'"
Shaking McClintic's hand at the rally, Clark said, "Mike, you saved my life."
"When Wesley Clark was our commanding officer, there was never any question about who was in command, who was the leader, who was responsible, who had the courage and determination to take us where we needed to go," McClintic said.
Clark's campaign trail reunion was similar to one that Democratic rival John Kerry had two days before the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses with Jim Rassmann, a fellow serviceman Kerry rescued 35 years ago in Vietnam.
The Massachusetts senator's staff said the two had not talked since 1969 when Kerry, a Navy gunboat captain, was retreating under fire with a group of other boats. When he saw someone in the water, Kerry reversed course and fished a wounded Rassmann to safety. Kerry earned a Bronze Star for his actions.
In Oklahoma, which is next door to Clark's home state of Arkansas, polls show Clark, Kerry and Sen. John Edwards in a three-way fight for first place. Arizona, with its large population of veterans, has been a key target for Clark among Tuesday's seven contests, but recent polls show Kerry developing a large lead there.
Clark was to attend a rally and Super Bowl watching party in Flagstaff, Ariz., before returning to Oklahoma on Sunday night.