Mark Clark-Almost the First American Ambassador to the Vatican-On What’s My Line

“A few days after the liberation of Rome, Lieutenant General Mark Clark, Commander of the Fifth Allied Army, paid his respects to the Pope: “I am afraid you have been disturbed by the noise of my tanks. I am sorry.” Pius XII smiled and replied: “General, any time you come to liberate Rome, you can make just as much noise as you like.””

The show What’s My Line makes a rather good time capsule for informal looks at major figures in mid twentieth century  American history.  On February 19, 1956 General Mark Clark, commander of the US Fifth Army in the Italian campaign during World War II, and commander of the United Nations forces in Korea from May 12, 1952 to the truce ending the conflict., appeared on the show.

It is an ironic commentary on the relative obscurity of the Italian campaign during World War II that the panelists were unable to guess his identity.  Clark was nominated by President Truman to be the first ambassador of the United States to the Vatican due to his excellent personal war time relationship with Pope Pius XII.  Opposition by Protestant groups and powerful Senator Thomas Connolly of Texas caused Truman to shelve the plan. 

The United States representative to the Vatican did not attain ambassadorial status until President Reagan’s administration.  Clark died in 1984, the same year that Reagan had the “presidential personal representative to the Vatican”, as the chief American diplomat to the Vatican was known,  upgraded to ambassador after he pushed through the repeal of an 1867 law banning funds for the construction of an embassy with the Holy See.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. I Knew that Truman sent the first US representative to the Holy See but not that he wanted to give him ambassadorial rank. Not bad for a 32nd degree [?] Mason who once flirted with the Klan.

  2. One of Truman’s best friends was Monsignor L. Curtis Tiernan who served as chaplain in the 129th Field Artillery during World War I along with Captain Harry Truman. During World War II, Tiernan became chief of chaplains in the European Theater of Operations. Many of the men under Truman’s direct command in World War I were Irish Catholic and he got along famously with them. When it came to Catholics Truman had absolutely no prejudice.

  3. General Clark, RIP, was not (I think) a Roman Catholic. it shows how rabidly anti-Catholic some were.

    One of my mother’s uncles was in the same division as Audie Murphy – they had the “record” of being (I think) 56 days in the line.

    Italy was so not well known: maybe because it was a bloody, slow meat grinder. German propaganda leaflets calculated Allied “progress” and estimated they’d reach the Po Valley by 1972.

    One assault across the Rapido River killed a regiment in 20 minutes. Darby’s Ranger battalion was destroyed in one day at Anzio. See Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle.

  4. The US had consular relations with the Holy See from the time of George Washington.

    More on Father John Bannon and his diplomatic mission linked below:


    Archbishop John Hughes, better known as Dagger John, served as Abraham Lincoln’s personal envoy to the Holy See in 1862.


  5. It should be remembered that the ‘liberation’ of Rome was not a strategic priority and Clark deliberately disobeyed clear orders in order to indulge his vanity and egotism. The whole thing was a publicity stunt and one can take some satisfaction from the fact that his ‘triumph’ of 5 June 1944 was eclipsed by events in another theatre the following day. This, however, was of no comfort to the Allied troops who lost their lives as a result of his selfish and vainglorious behaviour.

    He should have been relieved of his command, but his superior, Harold Alexander, was weak-willed and overly diplomatic, and Clark was a favourite of Churchill’s. Winston’s main fault was always his poor character judgement. Among his favoured generals was another whose talent for self-publicity was greater than his military abilities. I refer of course to Bernard Law Montgomery.

  6. No dissing of the” American Eagle” John! 🙂 Basically your criticism is just, although I think it was less than clear at the time that Clark’s decision to take Rome was the mistake it turned out to be in hindsight. Here is a good overview:


    As for Montgomery, I rate him fairly highly. I think his Market-Garden plan was brilliant although the execution was wanting. I also agree with this Churchill quote about Montgomery: “Indomitable in retreat, invincible in advance, insufferable in victory.”

  7. True Richard. In retrospect I think the whole Italian campaign was a mistake. That deducts not an iota from the courage of the men who struggled there, but the campaign simply allowed the Axis, at minimal cost, to tie down immense Allied resources and men.

  8. Don, I have to agree. I don’t think either the Americans or the British in the Second World War ever established a qualitative superiority over their German adversaries in the way the BEF did in 1917 and 1918. It was arguably different in the Far East, and I would rate Bill Slim as the most capable British general of the war.

    The British in particular seem to have lacked the offensive spirit which carried their fathers to victory in August – November 1918. And political and personal rivalries bedevilled the Allies in WW II. Eisenhower emerges with credit; I don’t think you can say the same for Monty. According to him he won the Battle of the Bulge, getting the Americans off the hook, and nearly a decade and a half after the end of the war he was unbelievably rude about Ike’s generalship on American TV when he was actually a guest of the then President.

    However, the Americans and British did agree one one point – the man you least wanted as an ally was Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle.

  9. “However, the Americans and British did agree one one point – the man you least wanted as an ally was Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle.”

    You can say that again John! Speaking of wasted resources, I think the entire Free French effort was in that category.

    “rude about Ike’s generalship on American TV when he was actually a guest of the then President.”

    Monty took arrogance and bloody mindedness and made them almost an art form.

  10. I think it’s ridiculous to say that the French didn’t do anything in WW2 because the French had to deal with the Nazis from the start .

  11. “because the French had to deal with the Nazis from the start .”

    And they did so well.

    Snark aside my point was that the resources poured into the Free French movement under De Gaulle was a waste. The Free French were unable to prevent an initial conflict between the Vichy French and the Allied Forces during Operation Torch in 1942; likewise in Syria in 1941. All the Allies got from the money and other resources they spent on the Free French was De Gaulle’s disdain, some translators and several divisions of mixed quality. The Resistance movement in France largely existed in Free French imagination until 1944 with the looming Allied invasion. Most French did what they were told under German occupation and evinced little desire to resist. Some heroes and heroines there certainly were in the Maquis, but I think they would have been active, most of them, even without the Free French movement.

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