Sgt Damon Clifton – Jumping behind enemy lines on D-Day with the 101st Airborne
“When Ashland’s invasion hour sirens blow, go at once to the church of your choice and pray for the success of the invasion and that the loss of life may be small,” said the Ashland Ministerial Alliance in the May 15, 1944, issue of the Ashland Tidings. D-Day arrived on June 6, 1944 — the streets of Ashland were empty, the places of worship full. A local editorial remarked, “The most noticeable thing about the people we saw today was a sort of quiet determination — a grim belief that the beginning of the end is here.”
No one wanted the war to end more than the men on the front lines. Sgt. Mainard D. Clifton, known as Damon to the Class of 1939, was a driven young man, so active in the debate team in high school that he had this next to his senior picture: “Debate, debate, from early to late, if a line were crooked, he’d prove it straight.” With his slicked back, wavy hair, steady, intense gaze, and exceptional public speaking skills, he would have been a good lawyer. At 1:20 a.m. on D-Day, Damon parachuted into Normandy with the celebrated 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
As part of the medical detachment team, Damon was with the first wave of Allied troops to land in France. Like many in his unit, he was released in the middle of a German offensive position instead of the planned drop zone. After meeting up on the ground with a small group of men, they tried to get back to their intended objective but, as Damon later wrote, “an overenthusiastic German ruined a perfectly good GI helmet and about two-inches of Clifton’s scalp.” This, of course, was an understatement — he had been shot and a piece of his helmet was embedded in his skull.
He was then interrogated and taken to a German “Krankenstube” (infirmary) in Saint Come du Mont, along with his battalion surgeon, who had a badly broken ankle, and several other medics. In pain and under extremely dangerous conditions, they provided aid to the wounded for three days. While there, Damon was befriended by a French schoolteacher who provided him with local intelligence and extra food — when she was accused of sabotage by the Germans, he immediately rose to her defense at his own peril. He and several other prisoners hid caches of stolen pistols, rifles, and grenades within reach of the wounded Americans so, if necessary, they could defend themselves. When it became clear that the Allies would liberate them shortly, the Germans either fled or surrendered.
Damon then returned to Ramsbury, England, for some time away from combat. In a letter home to his parents on Aug. 19, 1944, Damon wrote, “Everything— except a battle we had a week or so ago a few miles away — seems unimportant and dull compared to those first three days. Everyone has a story to tell about that period before we were relieved … It’s good to be back, and it’s good to get your letters. You have no idea. And while I’m on the subject, it is a matter of never-ending amazement how you manage to write about the things I’m most interested in. As someone said, ‘People know either a lot more or a lot less about you than you think they do.’ With lots of love, Damon.”
Damon then participated in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden, the invasion of Holland, on Sept. 17, 1944. Everything initially went like clockwork — Damon and his crew took off at 9:20 a.m. with their arrival time in Holland set for 10:25 a.m. The trip was uneventful until approximately five minutes from the drop zone when their formation received heavy anti-aircraft fire. Planes caught fire and four aircraft crashed, but those remaining slowed to jump speeds and the paratroopers, including Damon, were dropped near the town of Eindhoven. Their mission was to secure the corridor from the city to the Wilhelmina Canal.
They fought house to house and street to street while civilians ran for cover. The bridges came under heavy enemy counterattack. When Damon was given the order to assist a wounded soldier, he immediately rushed across open terrain, dodging German automatic and rifle fire to help. He went down, shot in the kidneys and severely wounded.
Damon succumbed to his injuries on Sept. 20, the last person from his unit killed during the liberation of Eindhoven. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism in February 1945.
At the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten where Damon is buried, the grassy central mall is lined with tulip poplars, rhododendrons, and rose bushes which burst into bloom by Memorial Day. Damon’s stark white cross stands in a gentle, sweeping curve with 49 others from his division. Nearby, the bronze statue of a mourning mother stands over the reflecting pool grieving the loss of her son.”
First Page with complete list of names…
We Regret To Inform You – The War Comes Home