Clifford Pauley: A Memorial

B-17 #42-30166 Black Jack III aka You Cawn’t Miss It

Odin remembers.

For a young airman named Clifford, this was it, the fiftieth and final run his country would ask of him, the final mission of his second 25-mission hitch. Statistically, the chances of making it through one full complement of twenty-five missions were about 25% in 1943. Three of every four airmen had their craft shot down by the intrepid air power known as the Luftwaffe or by other varied artillery, or succumbed to inherent issues such as equipment failure, pilot error, or other hazards of high-altitude combat. To successfully complete one tour was to beat the odds significantly; to finish two such tours and live to talk about it represented a somewhat unheard-of accomplishment. And yet the handsome young West Virginia boy had beaten the odds, living through 49 harrowing missions over occupied Europe during the very worst months of the air war of WW2.

Clifford had served his country in its dedicated pursuit of the liberation of its European allies from the evil that was the Third Reich such that now, upon the successful completion of just one more bombing run, he could put his career as a tail-gunner in the rearview and pursue more mundane…and far less hazardous…things. This was undoubtedly among his many thoughts as he pulled on his coat and laced up his boots on the November morning of that final mission, knowing that when that magnificent bomber “You Cawn’t Miss It” touched down on the airstrip in East Anglia, he was headed back to his family and farm.

But the Flying Fortress that lifted off that morning would never again touch down. After taking critical damage from the German flak batteries guarding the targeted oil-refinery below, the proud bomber fell out of its defensive formation and into the sights of a Luftwaffe ace and his wingmen who did their part. “You Cawn’t Miss It” exploded over the icy waters of the North Sea– killing 8 of the 10 young crewmen, Clifford among them. The plane reportedly impacted only about 500 meters off the coast of The Netherlands, but Clifford’s body, like the bodies of several of his crewmates, was never returned to their families.

Some of the crew of “You Cawn’t Miss It”, including Clifford Pauley (top row first from the left), Joe Langford (top row
first from the right), Neil Damato (bottom row first from the left), Joseph Kulik (bottom row third from the left), and
Donald May (bottom row first from the right).

Fast-forward eighty years, to the Dutch village of Margraten, roughly 100 miles from where Clifford’s final mission took him. Few of the villagers today were living when these brave boys made that ultimate sacrifice, and it’s doubtless that any there harbor memory of the day’s events. But Margraten became home to the Netherlands American Cemetery, the final resting place of over 8,000 American war dead, mostly from the Bombing Campaign or the nearby Battle of the Bulge. The first graves were interred in November of 1944, — a year after Clifford was lost in action — and the 65-acre cemetery was dedicated and publicly opened in 1960.

Since 1944, Dutch families have taken it upon themselves to treasure and care for the graves of the American slain, and the names written on the Tablets of the Missing. Odin is one such gentleman:

“We as Dutch people adopt those graves out of respect to our liberators. We bring flowers on their birthday, if the date is known to us, or for Memorial Day or Christmas. This is because for the relatives its not easy to do so from many miles away.”

Years ago Odin adopted three of Clifford’s crewmates, Neil J. Damato, Joseph F. Kulik, and Harlan L. Yost, and this year he laid flowers for Clifford too, after my son-in-law connected with him, who is a family member of Clifford’s. Odin and other grateful people of the Netherlands, thousands of miles from American soil, maintain this beautiful memorial because they know the world in which we live would be a very different place without the names etched on those crosses and on that wall.

Memorial Day is the day we Americans set aside to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It will be observed…not so much celebrated…by those who are moved with gratitude to remember that so many gave so much that we can live free. And many will do just that: find time on this holiday to pause and be thankful. Others, of course, will less consciously enjoy those same freedoms, but however we spend the day, let us not forget the price paid by people like Clifford and the rest of his compatriots who did not live to return to the well-deserved plaudits rendered by their own countrymen.

Today…and every day, American heroes are honored far from home. Odin remembers. Do we?

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13, ESV

Dedicated to the cherished memory of S/SGT James Clifford Pauley 94th Bomb Group (H), 332nd Squadron.

Leave a Comment