Wesley Clark was born in Chicago to a family with very little money. He was not yet 4 when his father died.
His mother moved to Little Rock, Ark., to live with her family. Clark remembers being competitive from a very young age.
"I discovered when I went down to Arkansas as a kid that when you don't have a father, you sort of got to make your own way in life. It's really up to you," Clark said.
"There's really nobody there. You've got to do it. I didn't have a big brother or anybody to sort of take care of me," he said. "I took care of myself."
When he was almost 10, his mother remarried. Clark says of his stepfather: "The problem was that he'd gone through a very difficult divorce, he'd had too much to drink during the process, he had lost his reputation in the banking community.
"It was stressful on all of us. My mother loved him. My mother loved me. He tried to take care of us. She was the breadwinner, he was struggling. It was painful."
Today Clark has a son of his own and over Christmas, he became a grandfather.
Clark says his life as a schoolboy was like the movie October Sky "where, with the rocket society and stuff, well, a lot of kids my age were very motivated, and very worried about the Soviet ICBM threat, and what it might mean to America."
"We thought, well, we're going to study real hard in science and mathematics, and we're going to fix this."
Clark remembers when, as a child, he first thought about the Army. "Somehow I had a nickel. And I don't know how I got it — it was my first money. So, I walked a mile to a variety store.
"And the only thing I bought with the nickel was a toy soldier. And he was a — like, a plastic, rubber soldier like they had in 1950. He was a machine gunner," he said.
"And I walked home with that in my fist," he said. "That's the first time I ever thought about the Army."
From West Point to Oxford
Clark decided he wanted to go to West Point when he met a West Point cadet as part of American Legion Boys State, a leadership program for male high school juniors.
What surprised Clark was that the cadet was wearing glasses.
"I went up to him afterward, and I said, 'You mean you can go to West Point if you wear glasses?' He said, 'Yes.' ... And right there I said, 'I'm going to go to West Point.' "
At West Point, where Clark graduated first in his class, he was encouraged to apply for a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England.
"You want to be more than a soldier. You want to be someone who's more broadly based," he said. "You want to have a perspective on the world, because this will help you later on in your career."
Clark went to Oxford — and at the end of the first year he married Gertrude, whom he met at a dance in New York when he was a cadet. Thirty-six years later he still describes her as the one who keeps his two feet on the ground.
After Oxford he rejoined his West Point classmates in Vietnam. He was wounded and won a Silver Star.
The Making of a General
Clark was in the Army for 34 years. He ultimately became a four-star general. In his military career, Clark has generally been described as either the most brilliant, or arrogant.
"Everybody in the military has a reputation," Clark said. "People don't even know you and they talk about you."
Clark says he faced challenging assumptions wherever he arrived.
Some people would think, "'I bet he doesn't know a damn thing about what's going on with this unit,' " he said. "There was always that atmosphere and you have to go in and just be yourself and work with people. And break down the barriers."
By 1999, Clark was the supreme allied commander of NATO. He led the campaign to successfully drive the former Yugoslav army out of Kosovo. And then he was then abruptly relieved of command.
To Make a Difference
Clark says his early retirement from the military was "painful."
"I love the armed forces," he said. "And I worked very hard to — for that fight.
"But on the other hand," he said, "I could feel what was going on in Washington. The problem was that the Pentagon was caught between a rock and a hard place. They didn't like the policy of being in the Balkans. So they couldn't tell me not to do it. But they wanted me not to do it."
Clark left the military and went into business. He also wrote two books.
He remembers his wife's reaction about his decision to run for president. They were on vacation in California.
"We stayed in a hotel that didn't have television, and it's beautiful," he said. "And she said, 'Do you realize,' she said, 'if you actually run and you're successful, we'll never ever, again be able to do this in our whole lives? You really want to do this?' "
Clark said he replied: "I can't stand where the country's being taken. That's why I'm doing this."