Richard Chad Clifton – Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps



News Release

No. 132-05
IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 7, 2005
DoD Identifies Marine Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lance Corporal Richard C. Clifton, 19, of Milford, Delaware, died February 3, 2005, as a result of hostile action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

Media with questions about this Marine can call the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Public Affairs Office at (760) 725-5044.

Iraqi war claims the life of Richard ‘Chad' Clifton, 19
By Henry J. Evans Jr.
Courtesy of the Cape Gazette of Delaware

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Richard “Chad” Clifton grew up in a quiet and peaceful place, a place that is not at all like the one where he died. Clifton, 19, was killed by a mortar round February 3, 2005, in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

At the home Clifton grew up in, nestled near Milton’s Prime Hook Wildlife Refuge, Terri and Richard Clifton are enveloped in a deep, natural silence punctuated by a ringing telephone with someone on the other end trying to soften the pain of losing a son in war.

“I like to say that the four of us were this really tight-knit group who didn’t need to have a lot of other people around us,” Richard said February 7, 2005.

His description of his family’s time together on their more than 150-acre farm sounds like a storybook tale. Walks through the woods together, playing in a mud puddle, observing their immediate world around them at its natural best.

But, the Cliftons said, though Chad loved where they lived he came into the world with an agenda of his own.

“It was a no-brainer. He’d always been interested in the military. There was no way it was going to be any different,” Terri said.

And while military service was something Chad felt was right for him, his father said the Marine Corps-bound Chad strongly discouraged his brother Ryan, 15, from following in his footsteps.

“He would tell his brother ‘I’ll break both of your arms and legs if you go into the military,” Richard said of Chad’s jestful threat.

Terri said Chad was determined to have a military life long before the attack on the World Trade Center.

“He was always quite aware of the risk we were at as a country from terrorism before 9/11 ever happened. He was concerned about the apathy of the average person. 9/11 pissed him off,” Terri said.

She said he also knew how he wanted to pursue that career – from the ground up, declining opportunities to attend military service academies in favor of boot camp.

A 2003 graduate of Cape Henlopen High School, Chad’s parents say he could have done anything he wanted. It’s something with which people that knew him growing up agree.

“He was a brilliant writer,” his mother said.

Susan Frederick taught Clifton as a junior in her honors American Literature class at Cape Henlopen.

“He enjoyed debate, class discussion and liked mental jousting,” Frederick said.

Frederick said Clifton’s classroom persona didn’t reveal any of his military side.

“The fact that he like to debate and discuss definitely did not put him into the category of someone who believed everyone should walk in a straight line,” she said. Frederick said was surprised to learn Clifton planned to enter the Marines as soon as he graduated from high school.

“It took me aback because Chad was a very strong academic student in several honors classes, and I took it for granted that his plan after high school would be to go to a university,” she said.

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Erale, Junior ROTC senior instructor at CHHS, said Clifton’s interest in military life was already well developed before he entered the program.

Erale said Clifton spent more than three years in Junior ROTC, using the training to prepare him for entry into the Marine Corps.

“Chad was an outstanding student. Reliable. Steadfast. Selfless. Intelligent. Energetic. All of those positive attributes that you look for all of our young people who are destined to become future leaders,” Erale said.

Erale said Clifton was always willing to give of himself.

“He was a very self-sacrificing kind of person. He was a joy to be around,” Erale said.

He said like any young person, Clifton had moments requiring “stern” correction.

“But you could do that with him and he would change the things he had made mistakes with, but there was never any anger, any grudge held.”

Erale said he had tried to discourage Clifton from enlisting in the Marine Corps and since his death has had a few “what if” thoughts.

“You can drive yourself crazy with that kind of reflection saying ‘if, if,’ but you can’t do that. He was living his dream,” Erale said.

Principal Ed Waples taught Clifton’s eighth-grade U.S. History class. Waples said Clifton moved to the next grade about the same time Waples moved to the assistant principal’s position at the high school.

“I think he was in search of truth,” Waples said of Clifton’s intellectually challenging nature. Waples said Clifton displayed “higher-order thinking,” something educators like to see in a developing mind.

“For teenagers who have to make decisions, they have to be able to think about what’s going on and be able to talk about those things. He had the ability to think about issues and challenge the status quo,” Waples said.

That thinking ability remained active even in the corps. Terri said her son’s perspective on what the war in Iraq is about changed over time. She said Chad no longer believed that the war was about setting Iraq on the path to democratic freedom but is rather a war to contain and occupy terrorists in that part of the world.

Richard said Chad was nearing the end of his tour of duty in the area and would have been pulled back to a comparatively safer area within the next couple of weeks.

“Ramadi is still such an extremely violent place. He has told us about the combat situation there,” Terri said.

“George Bush is a selfish man not worthy of the sacrifice of my son,” Richard Clifton said. But the Cliftons say they must also qualify that sentiment.

“He did not believe that the main reason for this war is to benefit the Iraqi people. He thought it was to draw terrorists to one place and fight them there. But he thought it was worth the sacrifice to be there if it meant that all of us here were safe,” Terri said.

The Cliftons say the Marine Corps and Chad’s fellow marines have been exemplary in their thoughtfulness and how they’ve handled matters during this difficult time.

Terri said another Marine, injured in the same mortar attack that killed Chad, e-mailed them from a hospital in Germany where he is recovering from his wounds.

The Cliftons proudly share a sympathy letter written by Chad’s master sergeant Ken “Top” Etherton.

“I am so proud to say that I have served a with a man of Chad’s caliber. He was so fun to be around,” Etherton wrote.

The Cliftons say Chad will be laid to rest Monday, February 14, 2005, in Arlington National Cemetery. A memorial service will be held locally but the time and location had not been set at press time.


Clifton was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

Iraqi war victim Chad Clifton given hero's memorial
By Karl Chalabala
Courtesy of the Cape Gazette of Delaware

The Greek philosopher Sophocles wrote that war never slays a bad man, but the good ones always.

And if judgment between a good man and a bad one rests in lives touched, friends made and ideals kept true, Lance Corporal Richard Chad Clifton must be placed among the good.

An overflowing crowd filled Parsell Funeral Home and parking lot in Lewes the afternoon of Feb. 13 to pay final respects to Cape Henlopen’s first son to fall in Iraq.

The attendees, many of them not old enough to buy a drink in a bar, heard descriptions of a young man who, from a young age, fully committed to a soldier’s life and fulfilled its highest duty.

Clifton, a radio operator, died February 3, 2005, from a mortar attack on a security and stability operation in Iraq’s North Babil Province, south of Baghdad. He was scheduled to come home next month.

“How proud we are of Richard Chad Clifton,” said Sergio Huerta, a family friend and the service’s master of ceremonies.

“A young man of 19 years, so valiant, so mature and so courageous. He always talked about becoming a soldier, a United States Marine. He developed a strong sense of duty to protect the values we hold so dear: freedom and the pursuit of happiness. There is an old Celtic proverb that says ‘Don’t give a man a weapon until you have taught him how to dance.’ A soldier must deeply care. Chad felt the same love and compassion we all feel. Chad held a weapon, but he knew how to dance.”
Military rituals and trappings constantly reminded those present of the exceptional and heroic nature of the funeral.

An American flag draped over Clifton’s coffin. His Purple Heart rested next to memorial resolutions from the Delaware House and Senate. Two Marines kept guard over the coffin. Every 20 minutes or so, the guard changed. The replacements walked lock step through the aisle between rows of grieving people quietly sobbing. The Marines presented themselves, crisply clicked their heels and slowly saluted. The relieved Marines walked slowly away, a cycle repeated three or four times, undeterred by the service.

A number of veterans attended the service, including five leather-sporting Vietnam veterans who saluted the closed coffin; members of the Millsboro Detachment of the Marine Corp League; and retired Marine Capt. Mike Dierdorf, who never knew Clifton but said the fallen Marine reminded him of his younger self.

“It’s not so much Chad and I were alike as individuals, but as Marines,” Dierdorf said. “There is a special kinship between Marines, among those who have proven themselves in combat, that is difficult to explain. Chad would want you not to mourn his passing but be proud of his accomplishments and celebrate his life.”

Clifton’s friends chose to salute him in their own, different fashion through recognizing not just a soldier, but also a friend.

With tear-filled eyes, Charlotte Clark’s voice rang out a haunting rendition of an Eve 6 song, “Here Come the Nights,” popular during her final year at Cape Henlopen High School. It was a song played at many proms and graduations in 2003, positive and filled with nostalgia, well-suited for life’s first ending when young people leave their homes and see if they really can set the world on fire.

The chorus goes: “Here’s a toast to those who hear me all too well. Here’s to the night we felt alive. Here’s to the tears you knew you’d cry. Here’s to goodbye, tomorrow’s gone and come too soon.”

“Chad’s mom asked me if I would sing,” Clark said. “I remember distinctly driving around with Chad listening to that song. I remember him saying ‘I feel so alive right now.’ It seemed clear to me to sing that song. He made us all feel so alive.”

Clifton’s best friend Rob Kunzig saluted Clifton by comparing him to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s Superman.

In “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” Nietzsche wrote, “I want to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the Superman, the lightning out of the dark cloud.”

Kunzig said Clifton was a man who willingly walked headfirst into danger regardless of the moral, political and religious antagonism he faced. Clifton was a man who rose above the normal, everyday concerns that bind people, Kunzig said, and answered only to his own sense of duty and will, which made Clifton a Nietzschean Superman.

But Kunzig also painted the lighter side of his friend as well.

“In sixth grade, Chad founded a paramilitary group called FAR, Forever a Rebellion. We all remember for most of seventh grade, Chad sported a mullet,” he said. “At his going-away party when he was six or seven sheets to the wind, he cuddled with my girlfriend and mocked me while he did it. ”

Not all of the salutes were spoken though. Clifton’s brother, Ryan, created a slide-show of pictures from Clifton’s service in Iraq.

The room grew still as speakers played The Rolling Stones’ song “Paint It Black,” known for closing out Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam epic, “Full Metal Jacket.”

The pictures moved from shots of Clifton graduating from Camp Pendleton in California, to pictures of him and a friend mugging for the camera with shiny, black sunglasses wrapped around close-cropped heads with cigars in their mouths.

Some picture showed Clifton in full gear and another was a group picture of his unit.

Perhaps the funniest was a picture of a wall with chalk writing scrawled on it: “Please do not feed the bad guys.”

The family, none of whom chose to speak during the services, displayed letters Clifton wrote home that described the things he’d seen and done. In one of them, he described his feelings about the war.

“I’d rather fight them here than have my family killed in a bombing, or snipers gun them down or an innocent in the street,” he wrote. “It’s better here than home, you know? Pick your battles.”

Clifton picked his battle and fought it. He did not live to see it won. He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on February 14, 2005.

16 February 2005:

Marine Lance Corporal Richard Chad Clifton spent the last few months of his life on the razor's edge of war:

“I scan the darkened streets for a target, listening always for the thump of a mortar round or the deeper horror of an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] screaming like a banshee overhead, howling someone's name. The halting silence here is punctuated by anonymous gunshots and hissing radio traffic,” he wrote just days before Christmas.

Clifton, 19, of Broadkill Beach, who was scheduled to come home next month, died February 3, 2005, in Iraq.

He was buried Monday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

As family and friends looked back Sunday on Clifton's life, it was his mother, Terri, who captured the significance of the loss.

“The road you had chosen was so difficult,” she wrote in a letter read by family friend Sergio Huerta. “The whole time you were teaching us about courage. … Here we are in the moment of our greatest heartbreak. We have to let you make the rest of your journey alone. … You are our hero.”

Clifton is the seventh soldier from Delaware to be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He received a hero's memorial tribute, but also was remembered as a talented writer and a loyal friend.

Hundreds gathered at Parsell, Atkins and Lodge Funeral Home in Lewes, where American flags lining the parking lot fluttered in the chilly breeze that blew in off the Atlantic Ocean. The service was so well attended that many were forced to gather outside the funeral home. Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. Mike Castle attended, as did state Rep. George V. Carey and a contingent of soldiers from the Marine Corps and other branches of the military. Veterans of World War II and Vietnam also came to pay their respects.

Two Marines in full dress uniform stood watch over Clifton's flag-draped casket throughout the memorial. His Marine Corps photograph and his Purple Heart medal were nearby, as was a resolution passed by the state Legislature honoring his service as a soldier.

But there was another side to Clifton, friends and family recalled. Clifton graduated from Cape Henlopen High School in 2003, played lacrosse and was a member of the high school rifle team.

A friend recalled that in middle school Clifton sported a mullet haircut and by high school could out-debate anyone. He was, friends recalled, a realist, a poet and a gifted writer.

After six months in Iraq he was tired, had aged beyond his years and was ready to come home.

In an Internet message he posted in December, which he titled “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/ The Emerald City,” he wrote: “I click my boots together in vain,” as Dorothy did when she tried to return home from Oz. “There's no place like home.”

Aaron Moore said he met Chad Clifton in 1999 at Cape Henlopen High School.

“It seems like I have a thousand memories of Chad,” he said. “He was quick to laugh but never quick to judge.”

Moore recalled when Clifton got a Cougar.

“I had a Mustang,” he said.

The combination of two guys and two fast cars was irresistible, so they decided to race down Route 1 — in front of the Delaware State Police barracks, Moore recalled.

They didn't get caught, but Moore said he still questions the wisdom of what they did.

Moore likened his friend to remarks by the late poet and musician Jim Morrison: “I see myself as a huge, fiery comet, a shooting star. Everyone stops, points up and gasps: ‘Oh, look at that.' Then whoosh and I'm gone. …”

Huerta, a long-time family friend, recalled Clifton as “so valiant, so mature. … He gave an entire lifetime of love, laughter and affection to those he knew. Chad developed a strong sense of duty to serve and to protect.”

Clifton's brother, Ryan, helped put together a slide show of pictures to remember his brother. The background music was the Rolling Stones' “Paint It Black” as moments from his brother's life flashed on a screen. The slide show ended with Clifton and his fellow Marines in Iraq.

The memorial service ended with a song performed by two friends who play in a band with Richard Clifton, Chad's father.

They chose the Green Day song “Time of Your Life:”

“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road, time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go. So make the best of this test and don't ask why. It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time. It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right. I hope you had the time of your life.”

21 April 2007:

Mother tells soldier son's tale: Chad Clifton's journal, poems compose volume


Terri Clifton stands next to stacks of “A Random Soldier,” a book she wrote with her late son,
Marine Lance Corporal Richard “Chad” Clifton, who died in Iraq on February 3, 2005.

NEAR PRIME HOOK – Writing a book, a collection of her son's journal entries and e-mails, is a promise that Terri Clifton hoped she'd never have to keep.

But “A Random Soldier: The Words He Left Behind” by Chad and Terri Clifton, is 300 pages that keep her son's memory alive.

That's the promise she made to Chad, a U.S. Marine, an aspiring writer and Cape Henlopen graduate, before he was deployed to Iraq.

Six months before the corporal was scheduled to return home, he died in a mortar attack on February 3, 2005, and was buried on Valentine's Day that year in Arlington National Cemetery.

The book was self-published by Mrs. Clifton and her assistant, Heather Lowe. Her youngest son, Ryan Clifton, served as technical assistant, and a fellow Marine, Ben Sebena, provided the cover photos.

“He said he never had a chance to tell anyone what he learned. The project kept me on my feet. The first year after he died, I spent transcribing all his writings,” she said.

The photos of Chad in the book show a lean, smiling young man, a young face that belies the depth of his thoughts and perceptions revealed in poetry and prose.

“Chad was born a soldier, from his first steps. He was bothered by the apathy in our society,” his mother said.

Until he was in middle school, he wanted to become a Navy SEAL. He turned down a place at the U.S. Naval Academy to sign up on early enlistment in the Marines.

It was a decision that he and his mother argued about, but her son had his mind set.

And if writing the book, shifting through her son's effects, his journals, the letters he wrote to his family and e-mails to his best friend, weren't difficult enough to the grieving mother, she had to learn to the ropes of a whole new world: the publishing industry.

While the Cliftons had book offers from publishers, Mrs. Clifton quickly realized that with a big check comes a huge sacrifice: she would have to sign over intellectual rights to the material.

The Clifton family is fiercely independent, private and self sufficient, living on a vast open tract adjacent to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and surrounded by woods, farm fields and the sky.

In her own words, it was a life they cherished, as her husband, Richard, built his career as a professional wildlife artist.

“I had the perfect life. We were not wealthy, but Chad had a good life. He worked at the beach. He had a car, lots of friends. Our lives were blown wide open. I miss being anonymous,” she said.

That life was shattered, she said, when the mortar killed their oldest son and Ryan's only brother.

She and her family were propelled into the limelight by tragedy, and she set out to keep the promise she'd made.

“Heather jumped off the cliff with me. We had no skills, just heart. We formed a publishing company, and Ryan is the tech department,” she said.

For the book release and signing of the 5,000 hardbound copies, Mrs. Clifton and Ms. Lowe transformed Mr. Clifton's gallery, Eastwind Studio, into a temporary exhibit of Chad's life and sacrifice.

The walls are lined with photos and certificates. In one corner, a stack of books is topped with his Parris Island graduation photo.

Another location is set up with a display of his boots, a cap, a weapon. Framed tributes, messages of sympathy, and pages from journals line the walls.

But by the end of the month, it will come down.

“I'm not setting up a shrine to Chad. He wouldn't have wanted that,” said his mother, a former Miss Milford,.

The book is available at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach or by appointment, by calling 684-4747 or e-mail at [email protected].

Gwen Guerke can be reached at [email protected] or 422-1200.

Boys Like Me
By Corporal. Chad Clifton
From a November 19, 2004, journal entry

Death walks all around
He follows boys like me
Protects us from ourselves
Not from kindness, but necessity
Boys like me
We're soldiers, criminals or worse
We keep death rich
Put souls into his purse
So make me pull this trigger
Make me pull a gun
I'm not afraid to die
It's my time in the desert sun


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 07/15/1985
  • DATE OF DEATH: 02/03/2005


rcclifton-gravesite-photo-december-2005 rcclifton-gravesite-photo-december-02.2005 rcclifton-gravesite-photo-082005 Terri Clifton Terri Clifton

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