The Naval Career of
"Jumpin" Joe Clifton
Born on Halloween, October 31, 1908 in Paducah, Kentucky, Joseph Clinton Clifton was a typical American youth, who loved sports and getting into minor mischief. He loved competition. He was the best marble player in the third grade.
The got his nickname "Jumpin’ Joe" during a football game, where Joe, as a defensive fullback, came up repeatedly against a big Tennessee player. Time and time again, a wiry (sometimes called scrawny) Joe made the Herculean effort to gain possession of the ball. Once, two guards caught Clifton and carried him backwards by the arms, twenty yards! Joe watched attentively for the big guard to make a wrong maneuver. Then the opportunity Clifton was waiting for, came. The guard fumbled the ball, and Joe grabbed it and ran, jumping through the astonished guards as he flew to make a 73 yard touchdown. Joe also loved basketball, but it was never his strongpoint. He did play a mean round of billiards, however.
He was to become the idol of girls in every soda fountain in Paducah.
Joe attended public schools in Paducah, before going on to attend the University of Kentucky prior to entering the U S Naval Academy in 1926. Joe worked part time while, and his mother baked pies to help make spending money for Clifton while he went through Annapolis on a scholarship. And yes, he was a member of the varsity football team while there, being named All-Eastern Fullback and honorable mention All-American!
His early naval service included duty aboard the battleship TENNESSEE, followed by flight training at Pensacola, Florida. Later he served with Scouting Squadron 3, Scouting Squadron 10, and Fighter Squadron 2. At the outbreak of WWII, he was serving as Flight Training Officer at the Naval Air Station, Miami.
In September 1942, while he was the Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron 12 on the USS SARATOGA (CV-3), his unit participated in the first strike on the highly fortified harbor of Rabaul. In July 1944, he became Commander of Air Group 12 aboard the carrier SARATOGA. Foe heroism and extraordinary achievement, he was twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and twice awarded the Legion of Merit. Credited with the downing of five Japanese planes, he also was awarded the Air Medal, and for services as Commander of the Combined Air Groups from HMS Illustrious and USS Saratoga, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order by the British Government, under King George VI.
He saw action as Executive Officer of the carrier WASP in the final operations against Japan, and was in command of the seaplane tender CORSON off of Formosa during the Korean War. He attended the Naval War College before promotion to Rear Admiral in 1958. He was later assigned to Corpus Christi, Texas as Chief of Naval Air Advanced Training. He began a 14 month tour in 1960 with his flag aboard the attack carrier RANGER in the Pacific Fleet and later served as Chief if Naval Air Technical Training, Naval Air Station Memphis, Tennessee, before retiring from the Navy in July 1963.
He did not have long to enjoy retirement; Clifton lost a leg from diabetes, and then his life, dying on Christmas Eve, 1967, in Santa Monica, California.
Several personal Clifton items were given to the Market House Museum by Clifton’s widow, Virginia. Clifton Recreation Center was dedicated to his memory at Chase Field, Beeville, Texas, in May 1971.