Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

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.