When my father was fifteen he made his way to the Great Lakes Naval Station with the intention to join. Like many young men during WW II, he lied about his age and was recruited. Before long, the Navy uncovered this deception and discharged him.

Undaunted, he signed-up with the Merchant Marines where, in addition to serving an important logistical role, they participated in the Normandy invasion when derelict ships were scuttled offshore to create artificial reefs. By an Act of Congress, these young men and women were awarded full honors as active military personal, with benefits including funeral services.

After the war he enrolled as an undergrad in philosophy at the University of Chicago, where he met and later married my mother, Faye Gilmore. When the conflict started in Korea (and now old enough to join), this time he opted for the USMC. After the end of hostilities in 1953, he was stationed in Japan where my mother soon joined him and where my oldest sister Peg was born. She graduating with a BA in Communications and the Arts from UWGB, where my father remains emeritus Frankenthal Professor of Anthropology and History. He retired from teaching in 1990. Peg also went on to join the service, and as an Image Analyst for the Army was herself stationed in Korea. After discharge, she earned a MS in Library Science from CUA and is now a Science Reference Research Specialist at the Library of Congress.

After an honorable discharge from the Marines with his rank of Captain, the young Clifton family returned to the States where dad earned his MA in anthropology at San Francisco State, and where my brother Pete was born. He completed his doctoral degree at the University of Oregon. My other sister Caty was born in Eugene and I was born a year later in Durango, Colorado, where dad was researching the Ute Indians. A year later he took his first teaching position at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Pete spent four years in the Air Force before studying engineering at UW-Madison, during which time he was also a reservist. Caty also graduated from UO with a BS in geography and then a MS from UW-Madison, spending her summers fighting forest fires. She now works as a hydrologist for the Forest Service in Pendleton, Oregon.

While my father’s forty year career as an ethnohistorian and psychological anthropologist included teaching positions at a number of different universities, he was also a noted researcher concentrating on North American Indians, and in particular the Potawatomi. In addition, he served as a consultant and an expert witness at many treaty trials, and wrote or edited numerous books.

Much of his research involved digging through archives of historic documents in Washington, DC. Over the years we made many trips here together, and when we weren’t busy at the NARA or visiting Peg and feasting on a dinner of eastern seafood, we enjoyed side-trips including many Civil War battle sites. Had he lived to see the NMAI my guess is he would have been a harsh critic of the museum because, although a beautiful building with wonderful exhibits, it is little more than a large collection of artifacts taken out of context with sparse cultural information—really more of an art museum if you ask me.

In the six years since his death his cremated remains have rested in a box of his own design (woodworking was one of his favorite hobbies). Because we moved all over the country as a family, we agreed it would be more appropriate to have him inurned at the Arlington Columbarium. He took great pride in his service to our country.

As our family is now scattered about, it has taken this long to get our schedules in sync. The snafu to this plan came in the form of a kid speeding through an intersection in his shiny-new Mustang, just as the light was turning red—and smashing into my mother’s car as she was on her way to the airport to pick-up Caty. Luckily for seatbelts and airbags, she suffered only a few cracked ribs and some minor internal injuries. In another twist of fate, the trip here from Michigan was to include a stop at Antioch in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where my mother graduated with a degree in political science and her granddaughter Paige (Peg’s daughter) is just starting her first year.

The end result being only Peg and I could make it to the ceremony. As my father was a commissioned officer, they gave him full honors—a color guard, pallbearers, a firing party, a bugler to plays Taps, followed by the folding and presentation of the flag and finally inurnment. If you’ve never personally witnessed one of these ceremonies, I have to say it is a moving experience. The flag folding sequence in particular is almost beyond my ability to describe. The robotic precision with which these young men go through the ritual is astonishing.

My only regret is the rest of my family could not be here to see it. This is for them. Rest in peace James A. Clifton, we salute you.

5 Comments so far

  1. Maggie (unregistered) on October 10th, 2006 @ 6:44 pm

    Wow, what an amazing story! Another thread in the fabric of the lives that make this country great. We salute you for continuing your dad’s legacy.

  2. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on October 10th, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this, Doug. We are richer for his life, and poorer for your loss.

  3. wayan (unregistered) on October 11th, 2006 @ 6:34 pm

    Thanks Doug.

  4. Helen Barker (unregistered) on October 13th, 2006 @ 7:39 pm

    Hi Doug, just a note to let you know I visited your Mom today and Ross and I both thought she looked great….a smile or two but not much energy at this point. Glad you were able to fulfill their wishes and I am sure it was a grand scene. So sorry the plans didn’t work out but there are blessings in all things and your Mom has certainly been a blessing in the quilt group. Helen Barker, a friend

  5. Doug (unregistered) on October 14th, 2006 @ 5:29 am

    Thanks Helen, for looking in on Faye, and everyone else, for your kind thoughts.

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