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Robert N. Clark, veteran of D-Day also fought a battle against cancer ; Feb. 25, 1925 -- Jan. 22, 2011

Robert N. Clark fought two great battles in life one as a young man, the other as an old man.

In each, he experienced victory, until Saturday when the 85-year-old World War II Navy veteran who participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy finally succumbed to cancer.

Even in death, his family said, he carries on the fight, having made prearrangements for Roswell Park Cancer Institute to study his cancer cells.

"When the chemotherapy stopped working three years ago, he was placed on experimental drugs, and that's when he decided to donate samples of his cancer to Roswell for research after he died," said Thomas R. Clark, his oldest son. "It was done in the hopes of helping others."

A retired ironworker and native of Forestville who spent his early years in Niagara Falls before the family moved to Ransomville, Mr. Clark was diagnosed with melanoma eight years ago.

"One of the nurses at Roswell told us the World War II vets seem to be tougher in fighting cancer. They fight harder and live longer," Thomas Clark said Monday.

As a young man, Mr. Clark participated in one of the turning points of the war in Europe. He operated the ramp on one of the landing craft delivering troops and equipment to Omaha Beach in Normandy. That amphibious assault became known as "Bloody Omaha" for its many casualties.

In a 2009 interview with The Buffalo News on the 65th anniversary of D-Day, Mr. Clark said he still vividly recalled the invasion. "There was so much going on. People laying in the water, people wounded or dead on the beach. They were all trying to get to the base of the hill where they would be protected," he said.

From the bloodied seawater, Mr. Clark and his shipmates pulled dying and dead soldiers aboard their craft.

After he returned home to the quiet farm country of Ransomville, he and his wife, the former Eleanor J. Schultz, raised seven children at the Clark family homestead, which they bought from his parents.

Sometimes at night in the old farmhouse, the memories of the war invaded Mr. Clark's dreams. " I'd have trouble at night. I'd dream just like I was there, and it would be in color, just like the movies," he said.

But he never let it interfere with his job as a father, husband and provider, according to Thomas Clark, who explained that the family went through difficult financial times with the unpredictability of work in the construction industry. "At times he would have to go out back and hunt for dinner. My mother would prepare squirrel and rabbit. We always ate. There were canned vegetables from his big garden," Thomas Clark said.

Because he continued to beat cancer for several years after being diagnosed, Mr. Clark was fond of telling his loved ones he would die of something other than cancer.

But in the days before his death, he accepted that cancer had gained the upper hand, though he took heart in knowing the battle against the killer disease would continue with some help from his specimen donations.

Surrounded by his family early Saturday in his beloved farmhouse, Mr. Clark died peacefully, his son said.

"Every family member returned home just to be with him on his last hours," Thomas Clark said.

In addition to his oldest son, Mr. Clark, a retiree of Ironworkers Local 9, is survived by two other sons, Roger and Douglas, and four daughters, Donna, Susan, Marcia and Nancy. His wife is deceased.

Services will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday in St. Peter's Lutheran Church at North Ridge, 4169 Church Road, Cambria.

-- Lou Michel

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