Note: Last week I received a request from Jean J. that I write about the history of Clifford Kamph Park. My curiosity about the park and the man it was named for piqued last summer. I spoke to several of Clifford Kamph’s friends and researched records of the plane crash to compile the following history published in The Daily Triplicate last July 30 as part of a tribute called “Memorials of Del Norte County” spotlighting seven different veteran’s memorials in our county.
I have visited the Kamph family plot in Crescent City cemetery. There is a marker for Clifford next to the final resting place of his parents and little sister Irene.
On January 13, 1945, a 28-year-old first lieutenant instructor pilot of the 411th Bombardment Squadron took off with his crew in a B-29 aircraft from Borinquen Army Air Field on a routine training flight. They were preparing for foreign service at their base in Puerto Rico. During the flight the crew was directed by the tower to fly out along the bearing of a reported distress signal. At about 1700, off the coast of Haiti, the #2 engine began to smoke and burst into flames. The pilot told the crew to prepare to ditch. When he landed the plane in the water at 1745, it broke apart and continued to burn. Five members of the crew perished, including the flight instructor pilot Lt. Clifford Kamph of Del Norte County.
Clifford’s father Ed bought and sold livestock and hauled lambs to market from his trucking operation in Smith River. A family friend remembered that while home on leave around 1942, Clifford proclaimed that the future of transportation was in airplanes and that cattle and sheep would soon be flown all over the world. He encouraged his father to build an air strip on his property.
Clifford’s parents, Edward and Melita, lived on the Winchuck River in Brookings, Oregon, before moving to Smith River. Their only other child, Irene May, died of polio in 1927 when she was only 7 years old. Her death was a huge blow to Ed and Melita, and friends recall that after their daughter’s death the Kamphs focused all their attention on Clifford, who was four years older than his sister. “They doted on him,” Anna Marie Driskell Westbrook, a close childhood friend said.
Clifford attended the University of Oregon. He was one of the few students from this area to own a car, a gift from his parents. He often transported fellow U of O students back home for holidays and summer breaks. After graduation in 1939 he joined the Army.
The Kamphs were heartbroken at the news of their son’s death. According to an article written by David Hopkins for the Del Norte County Historical Society Newsletter, “they traveled to the crash site and a wreath was dropped from a plane for him and the others lost as well. His parents wanted a way to honor his memory and so they donated…the good landing strip site (on their property) to the county…They wanted it to be a park in their son’s memory and also to the entire veterans of Del Norte County. The land was dedicated on May 30, 1949, Memorial Day. The family wanted the county to develop it to the benefit of the veterans of the area, their families and all Del Norters…When the group arrived at the park site, a color guard and rifle squad led the people down to the beach…laid wreaths in the outgoing tide…(the park was) “dedicated in the name of those who offered their lives that justice, freedom and democracy might survive”…As the ceremony concluded a large flag was given to Mrs. Kamph, a gun salute was fired and ‘Taps’ were echoed over the flower strewn dunes out to sea.”
“Handsome, popular, very intelligent, out-going” are some of the words used by old friends to describe Clifford Kamph. Sixty years after the dedication of the Kamphs’ property, the park is one of the jewels of the Redwood coast and is now a state park. Known for its scenic camp sites and sandy driftwood-covered beach, the park is a favorite for tent campers. The Kamph family home sits on the hillside overlooking it.