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Veteran's new book unlocks memories of a painful childhood

David H. Clark, a resident of the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, displays a copy of his newly published book, “Behind the Chain-Linked Fence.” The book is the first in a series of three which depict his abusive childhood experiences growing up in an orphanage and foster homes in the state. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
July 20, 2011
TILTON — The story of U.S Army and Navy veteran David H. Clark's childhood, as depicted in his recently published book, "Behind the Chain Link Fence," is not pretty.

It is, however, one that both he and therapists at the Veteran's Administration felt needed to be told —not just to educate and enlighten others, but to free Clark from the childhood demons that continued to plague him in his adult years.

Clark was being raised outside Concord by parents of "questionable character" when he, his three brothers, and his 12-week-old sister were suddenly removed from the home. While his baby sister was placed in a foster home, the four boys were sent to an orphanage in Manchester.

Only six years old, Clark had a "difficult time," he said, in getting along at the facility. Suffering from a medical condition that was misunderstood in those days only resulted in further punishment for the young boy when he wet his bed. His time in the orphanage, he said, was filled with heartache and sexual and physical abuse.

"I really found it hard to be there, going by their rules and not having a mother and father who loved me," said Clark.

The only occasional visitor was his father, whom Clark said would arrive drunk. The young boy still loved his dad, though, and wanted to be home with his family.

Longing for the love of his parents, Clark finally managed to mingle with visitors one day, and escaped in their midst. From there, he recalled landmarks his father had pointed out on family trips to the city, and slowly made his way back to their home many miles away.

"A lot of people would see me and bring me to their house to clean me up and feed me. When I'd hear they were contacting the state or the police about me, though, I'd sneak out and hit the road again," Clark said.

On that journey, he met many kind and generous people, and had countless adventures. Clark's only focus at the time, though, was to return home. What happens when he finally arrives there, greeted by neighbors who had already heard rumors of his escape from the orphanage, is another surprising story yet to be told.

In order to protect the privacy of those involved, Clark altered the names of the orphanage, the towns and the people who were part of his experiences. Even his own persona is depicted by the main character, Howard Walker, but in writing as Howard, Clark also included experiences of those children around him to point out the suffering endured by many of those placed in the orphanage in the 1950's.

The book itself is published under the pen name of "I.B. Long," not to protect Clark's identity, but to further show the pain he felt while growing up.

"I came up with that name because it was the one thing I always wanted — to belong to someone, somewhere," Clark said.

Even the explanation behind the title, "Behind the Chain Link Fence," can tug at the heartstrings. Clark said during his time in the orphanage, the children were allowed outside for a few hours in chain-link fenced yards. One day, he recalled, he wrote a note, which read, "I love you. Please take me home," and shoved it to the sidewalk outside the fence.

"I stood there and watched it rolling, rolling, rolling in the breeze as people walked over it. No one ever picked it up," he said.

Memories of separation and abuse haunted Clark through much of his life, affecting his behavior even into his adult years, which included his time in the service, two marriages, one child and three step-children. He said writing the story was a cleansing experience that has also helped him understand his past behavior.

How he came to finally belong to someone, Clark said, will be revealed in the final two books he is currently working on, as the first wraps up with a bit of a real life cliffhanger.

"It kind of ends with me saying, 'Mom, it's me- I'm home,' as I fall through the doorway. Who she really was will be revealed in the second book," said Clark.

Copies of "Behind the Chain Linked Fence" are currently available from local book stores by placing an order through Xlibris publishers at 1-888-795-4274, ext. 7879. They may also be purchased through Clark at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton by calling 527-4400 and asking for him on the Tarr South residential wing. A copy is also available through the Hall-Memorial Library in Northfield.

"It's helped me an awful lot to write this all down, and I hope this book helps others who might have had some of the same experiences. It might make them understand abuse doesn't have to continue with their own children and help them do better with their lives," said Clark.

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