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
donatedandhellip;the good landing strip site (on their property) to the
countyandhellip;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
Nortersandhellip;When the group arrived at the park site, a color guard and
rifle squad led the people down to the beachandhellip;laid wreaths in the
outgoing tideandhellip;(the park was) "dedicated in the name of those who
offered their lives that justice, freedom and democracy might
survive"andhellip;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.