PITTSBURG -- Most attorneys dream of one day making an impression on the nation's highest court. Clark Strickland, a World War II veteran and fly-fishing expert, has done that without cracking open a law book.
It all started when Jeffrey Minear, counselor to Chief Justice John Roberts, came in to the San Francisco Orvis fly-fishing store where Strickland works.
One thing led to another, and the 86-year-old Pittsburg resident is now the very proud recipient of a World War II program from a Memorial Day ceremony at the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg thanking him for his military service.
"It humbled me so much I just cried. My wife came and I said 'I can't believe somebody honored me. I haven't done anything famous,' " recalled Strickland, who served as an enlisted seaman from 1943 to 1945 on the USS Fuller. That combat transport vessel that landed troops in Guadalcanal, Bougainville and other South Pacific locations.
The program is signed by U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Robert Mandell, U.S. Army Europe Commanding General Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling and retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Adm. James Stavridis, Commander, U.S. European Command, and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, also signed the program and included a military medallion embossed with a Latin phrase that means "The Price of Freedom is Vigilance."
Strickland recalled when Minear first walked into the fly-fishing store a couple years ago. "He came in
Minear shared his recollections in an email. It read:
"My wife and I met Clark at an Orvis store in San Francisco, where he was demonstrating fly-tying techniques. Just a few words with Clark revealed his deep patriotism. All of us who work at the Supreme Court have profound admiration for our World War II veterans (and some of us -- including Justice (Antonin) Scalia -- have high regard for the art of fly-fishing as well). This past Memorial Day, I had the privilege of attending a memorial ceremony at the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, where many Americans who died in the Battle of the Bulge are buried. The people of Luxembourg remain deeply grateful for America's liberation of their country."
"When the American Ambassador to Luxembourg, Robert Mandell, spoke of the patriotism of 'America's greatest generation' during World War II, I thought immediately of Clark. After the ceremony, I recounted Clark's service in the Pacific theater to the special guests in attendance, including Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who also happens to be an avid angler. They all enthusiastically signed the program in Clark's honor."
After his military service, Strickland and his wife Rose settled in Pittsburg in 1952. Strickland was employed at U.S. Steel (now USS-POSCO Industries) as a machinist until he retired in 1984, and has worked part-time at the Orvis store for the last 12 years.
Strickland grew up in Tennessee, where he first learned about fly fishing.
"My dad taught me when I was 6, 7 years old and I've been at it ever since," said Strickland, who has cooked meals for Charles Lindbergh and country music star Hank Williams while working in restaurants.
During one of Minear's visits, Strickland gave him some special flies from his private collection to take back to the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia sent Strickland a thank-you note that said, "I will use the wooly buggers for sure, and hope to try the steelhead bunnies." The letter signed off with "Thanks again, and tight lines."
"He sent me a beautiful letter. He came to love those flies called the American, the General MacArthur and the Judge," Strickland said with a chuckle.
About three months ago, Minear came into the store while in San Francisco and dropped off the signed program from the Memorial Day service, along with the medallion and a book about the Supreme Court signed by the Chief Justice.
Strickland is waiting for a special occasion to wear the medallion.
"I will wear it when I go to a veterans funeral or a Memorial Day, a patriotic day," he said.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.