Long-time Weiser resident turns 99

If you didn’t know any better, you probably would not have guessed that the man who walked through the door of the Weiser Activities Center for Seniors on May 27 – with only the assistance of a cane – is 99-years-old.
 Clark Syme, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and ran a successful electrical business in Weiser for decades, was greeted with claps and shouts of joy by well-wishers celebrating a birthday that many do not reach.
 After eating some lunch, a Hawaiian-style pizza made special for him by Ruszoni’s, and enjoying some cake and ice cream, Syme shared a little bit about his life.
 Born on the family homestead and living a life of modest means, life did not start out easy.
 “I was born in Payette in 1923,” he told the Weiser Signal American. “My mother passed away when I was 12, and I had to go to work.”
 Syme, who never had the opportunity to attend high school, did farm work and herded sheep in the hills of southwest Idaho before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1943 during World War II. For basic training, he was sent to Farragut Naval Training Center at Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho, a major training base during the war.
 During its 30 months of existence, the naval station was the largest city in Idaho and the second largest naval training center in the world. Ironically, the training center, which reached a population of 55,000 at the height of operation, was located some 300 miles away from the western coastline.
 Situated between Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, at the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille, the training center was the first stop for 293,000 sailors who received training at the site, which became a state park in 1966, according to an article written by Darby Pierce for the University of Idaho.
 Syme wouldn’t be there long, however, contracting pneumonia and was sent to a warmer climate at the Naval Training Center at Balboa Park in San Diego where he completed his basic training.
 He then shipped out to Pearl Harbor where he trained to be a gunner’s mate and was given the opportunity to serve aboard the USS Franklin but declined, which turned out to be a good decision.
 The aircraft carrier was hit by a Japanese “Kamikaze” attack and was badly damaged during a battle in the Pacific. More than 800 crew members lost their lives.
 Syme then volunteered to serve aboard a Naval submarine but learned a high school diploma was required.
 “I never graduated from high school, but you could take a test, so that’s what I did, and I passed,” Syme recalled.
 He went through another month of training and was assigned to the USS Dace (SS 247). Three weeks after its arrival in Pearl Harbor, the submarine and its crew of approximately 60 set out on patrol in the waters of the Pacific. 
 It didn’t take long to find action, Syme sustaining an injury during a surface-level firefight.
 “I was on a .50-caliber machine gun and we were shooting at two fishing boats because they armed their fishing boats,” he explained. “There was also a five-inch [gun] firing just ahead of me and it blew my earplugs out and broke my eardrum, so I have 35 percent hearing in my one ear.”
 The Dace later evaded a Japanese DE craft (similar to an American PT boat) after missing the target with its torpedoes. 
 “We had sunk four or five freighters and we were attacked,” Syme said. “We went down to 350 feet and stayed down for twenty-one and a half hours.”
 The submarine was well below depth safety rating, but they had no choice but to hunker down until it was clear to once again surface.
 “They dropped depth charges; we were down there for so long, we began running out of oxygen,” Syme said. “We were weak and didn’t know if we were going to make it.”
 But they did make it, Syme marrying his childhood sweetheart, Elaine, during a subsequent leave in 1945. 
 He was discharged on April 5, 1946, and went on to own a successful business, McKnight and Syme Electric in Weiser, which he ran for 62 years, 30 of them with business partner Bud McKnight.
 Over the years, Syme was involved in civic affairs in Weiser, serving as mayor and on the city council, the senior center board, and the hospital board.
 When asked if he was successful in figuring out the secret to life at this point in his existence, Clark Syme only offered a friendly, albeit mysterious, smile.
 There is much more to the story of Clark Syme. Be sure to look for a story to be penned by Nancy Grindstaff in the upcoming special Fiddle Week edition.


Signal American

18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
PH: (208) 549-1717
FAX: (208) 549-1718

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