The Senate dedicated a portrait Tuesday afternoon of Oklahoma-native Admiral Joseph James “Jocko” Clark. The portrait, commissioned by the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund and sponsored by Sen. and Mrs. Cliff Branan, was painted by world-renowned artist and Oklahoma City resident Mike Wimmer.
“Admiral Clark was an important Oklahoman deserving of honor and remembrance at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Clark was the first Native American to graduate from the United States Naval Academy and had a very distinguished military career,” said Charles Ford, president of the preservation fund.
Born near Chelsea in Indian Territory in 1893, Clark attended Willie Halsell College in Vinita and Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) in Stillwater. In 1913, he received an appointment to and was the first Native American to graduate from the United States Naval Academy.
During WWI, Clark was a destroyer commander. He graduated from the Naval Flight School in Pensacola
in 1925. During WWII, he commanded the USS Suwanee (ACV-27) and the USS Yorktown (CV-10).
Clark was promoted to Rear Admiral in January 1944 and commanded the Task Force USS Hornet (CV-12) in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. During the Korean Conflict, Clark was the commander of the Seventh Fleet. He was famous or his self-proclaimed “Cherokee Strikes,” where he concentrated his fleet’s efforts on the destruction of enemy weapons and supplies behind enemy lines. The Cherokee Strikes served as a much-needed morale-boost for American frontline troops.
“Not very often does an individual come along with such strength of character, honor and dedication to his country. Admiral Clark gave over 40 years of his life in service to the country he loved,” said Sen. Branan. “My father served as a Naval Carrier Fighter Pilot in the same theater in World War II as Admiral Clark. For this reason, my family and I are so proud to sponsor this work to ensure that his legacy and contributions to the freedoms, we so often take for granted, are never forgotten.”
Sen. Cliff and Connell Branan reside in Oklahoma City with their two children, Ford and Langley. In his third and last term of office representing Senate District 40, Sen. Branan owns Branan Property Company, which he started in 1995.
Artist Mike Wimmer noted that the oil painting took two weeks to complete. He worked with the Navy to gather information about Clark’s accomplishments and was provided with two photos to create his work.
“Certain pieces resonate with me more than others and this was one of them. My father was in the Air Force and both my brothers were in the Navy, so it was a great honor for me to paint Admiral Clark’s portrait. Admiral Clark’s service impacted the history of our country, touched thousands of lives, and served as a role model for his fellow Native Americans and Oklahomans,” said Wimmer. “Our veterans don’t always get the respect and honor they deserve for the sacrifices they make for our country. I hope my work is a fitting tribute to this incredible American and Oklahoman. I’m proud to have had an opportunity to be a part of this special project.”
Admiral Wesley V. Hull, Chairman of the Oklahoma War Veterans Commission attended the ceremony and discussed Clark’s military awards, which include the Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Cross, Silver Star, and the Legion of Merit among others.
After his retirement from the Navy in 1953, Admiral Clark lived in New York City and was chair of a construction and investment corporation. He was made honorary chief of both the Sioux and Cherokee nations. He was also honored in 1969 by the National Aeronautic Association with the Elder Statesman of Aviation Award. He died on July 13, 1971, at the Naval Hospital in St. Albans, New York and laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
In honor of Admiral Clark, the Navy named a guided-missile frigate the U.S.S. Clark (FFG-11) in 1980, a ship nicknamed the “Determined Warrior”.