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Two World War II veterans make mark on Dallas church

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Lovelace

Truitt Brinson (left) and Bryan Clark stand with members of the Sunday school class that bears their names.
Aug. 10, 2005

By John A. Lovelace*

DALLAS (UMNS) — About four years ago, the young couples class at Oak Lawn United Methodist Church changed its name to honor two veterans.

Not longtime teachers or beloved ministers, but veterans as in “military.” As in World War II, Pacific Theater. As in VJ Day (Victory over Japan), Aug. 15, 1945.

On that day, 60 years ago, Navy Seaman 2nd Class Truitt Brinson was “never working harder in my life,” overseeing military supplies coming and going on the  island of Kwajalein. U.S. forces had captured the island from the Japanese in the Pacific campaign.

On VJ Day, Marine Sgt. Bryan Clark was in Hawaii, training to invade Japan when the news arrived. He had survived the battle of Iwo Jima, one of only three from his 160-man company to leave the volcanic mountain-island alive and uninjured. He knew personally all six Marines featured in the historic news photo of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi.

Brinson-Clark Class member David Betz explains the young adults’ affinity for the two men. “Soon after getting married, my wife and I intended to visit several United Methodist churches in Dallas. Our search was cut short after our first visit to Oak Lawn because Truitt and Bryan assured us that we had found our new church home.”

The name change for the class was overdue.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by John Lovelace

Bryan Clark shares a story with Brinson-Clark Class members Ann Richards (back to camera), Erin Eads and Ray Lee.
“The Sunday school class we joined at Oak Lawn was originally named the Young Adults Class,” Betz says. “We knew a name change was necessary when church visitors wrongly assumed that class members were teenagers. Renaming the class in honor of Truitt and Bryan was an easy decision. They are credited with welcoming so many class members to this church.”

The two men, who are best friends, say they consider the class’s action one of the highest honors they have received.

It’s worth coming early to Sunday morning worship at Oak Lawn to watch and hear the two veterans in action.

Some of Truitt Brinson’s friends are convinced that he could sell life insurance to a mortician. A longtime agent for Mutual of New York, he won the firm’s “Man of the Year” award in 1986. Bryan Clark attended the ceremony.

At Oak Lawn Church, smiling warmly, Brinson quietly sidles up to a visitor, introduces himself, asks where he or she would like to sit, leads the way to the preferred spot, then introduces the newcomer to at least one other person nearby. Satisfied that he has completed this task, he goes looking for another person — longtime member or newcomer, never mind. He’ll also snag any member passing by and suggest, “Step over there and introduce yourself to those folks.”

Clark, the more outgoing of the two, could strike up a conversation with a fence post. When he spots someone he doesn’t know, he steps forward, hand outstretched and announces, “I’m Bryan Clark. Tell me your name.” His next overture is apt to be either “What brings you to Dallas?” or “Where are you from?”

And, if the answer to that second question is almost anywhere in Texas, he’s off to the races. There’s hardly any place in Texas he hasn’t heard of or been.

In addition to their Sunday morning activities, Brinson follows up Sunday visitors with Monday evening phone calls, thanking them and inviting them back. On Tuesday mornings the two men and the church’s membership secretary, Mildred Lacy, go over attendance records and plan any additional follow-up.

As for their wartime service, Brinson admits that his was “a good bit quieter than Bryan’s.” He served in the Navy until October 1945 — two months after the fighting ended and a month after Japan’s formal surrender. Upon discharge, he returned to Texas and his young bride, Jeannie, and their first-born son, Ray. Brinson had had only 11 days with his son before shipping out in 1943. He soon landed a sales job with Fairbanks-Morse, rose to national sales manager, then switched to MONY, where he worked until retirement.

Clark has no equivocation about the two atomic bombs that forced Japan to surrender because they spared him and thousands of others the deadly duty of invading Japan. Instead they entered a subdued Japan to begin that nation’s initial rebuilding. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 killed more than 200,000 people outright and injured many more.

Returning home in late 1945, Clark enrolled at Texas Tech University, played a year of minor league baseball for the Lubbock Hubbers (West Texas-New Mexico League), then started a 36-year career with the National Auto Theft Bureau. This carried with it a special commissioning as a Texas Ranger, the legendary “one riot, one Texas Ranger” statewide law enforcement agency.

The two veterans first made contact in 1976, when Clark was stationed in Dallas for 10 months and he and his wife, Reba, joined Oak Lawn Church. “Truitt and Jeannie took us under their wing,” Clark recalls.

When the Clarks returned permanently to Dallas in 1982, the men’s new era of service to the church began. Both men chaired the church’s administrative board, and Clark served several years as lay leader. The Clarks have also chaired the Methodist Central Hospital of Dallas auxiliary and logged thousands of hours of volunteer service there.

Three years ago, when Oak Lawn undertook a months-long study of its vision and values, consultants Richard Hearne and Rev. Don Renshaw included this in their 54-page report:

“A source of great pride for the membership of OLUMC is that the consultants have never (emphasis original) met two better greeters and ushers than Mr. Bryan Clark and Mr. Truitt Brinson. They take great pride in the fact that no one can visit OLUMC and not be greeted by one of them. Not only do Mr. Clark and Mr. Brinson greet persons, they truly welcome visitors as if they were in their homes. ... If every church in the (United Methodist) North Texas Conference had a Bryan Clark and Truitt Brinson, we would not have the small growth that we have.”

Their welcoming service continues. Erin Eads, a Brinson-Clark Class member, says they are examples of people who can say, “do as I do.”

“Bryan and Truitt have shown what it means to welcome strangers and acquaintances with the same unconditional, sincere friendliness that they show to members who are long-time dear friends.”

*Lovelace is editor emeritus of the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter and a member of Oak Lawn United Methodist Church.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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