This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: “To the stars through difficulties.
Clark Clifford served as a friend and confidant to four U.S. presidents.
He bent the ear of President Harry S. Truman in 1948 and was the key architect in Truman’s election, encouraging the new president to recognize and support Israel.
He counseled President John F. Kennedy.
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As Secretary of Defense under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Clifford urged the president to end all bombing in North Vietnam.
And he served as a special presidential emissary to India in 1980, appointed by President Jimmy Carter.
When critics tried to label him a hawk during the height of the Vietnam War, and other critics accused him of being a dove, Clark reportedly told them:
“I am not conscious of falling under any of those ornithological divisions."
Clark Clifford was born Dec. 25, 1906, in Fort Scott.
He received his college and law degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and was admitted to the bar in 1928.
From 1944 to 1946, Clark served as a captain in the U.S. Navy.
In 1946, he became an adviser to Truman, specializing in foreign policy, defense and labor. He would later tell reporters:
“Politics is a very important part of our government. . . . It’s the lubricant that helps keeps things running smoothly.”
In 1950, Clark left the White House and opened his own practice in Washington, D.C. Among some of his first clients were the future President Kennedy and Howard Hughes, the richest man in the world.
In 1960, when Kennedy was elected president, he appointed Clark to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Clark chaired the committee from April 1963 through January 1968.
At that time, President Johnson appointed Clifford to succeed Robert McNamara as U.S. Secretary of Defense. He served until 1969 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Johnson.
In 1991, Clark became embroiled in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal — an investigation that focused on the criminal conduct of the U.S. and the United Kingdom involving money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism and arms trafficking.
Clark had served as the chairman of First American Bankshares, one of the key banks involved in the investigation. He resigned from the bank in 1991 and testified before the House Banking Committee that he had been duped.
In the end, federal prosecutors dismissed charges against him.
He died in 1998 at age 91 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.