Sometime after the Vietnam Cease-fire Agreement of 27 January, 1973, the government of North Vietnam released the
names of the American prisoners it held and began making preparations for their return. For the families who had
loved ones on the list, it was a time of ecstasy. However, it was a tremendous letdown for other families – those
whose loved ones were missing in action but whose names did not appear on the list. One such family was that of
Captain Cliff McKittrick, who had been missing since 18 June 1967. Cliff’s brother Jack, of Camden, South Carolina,
said, “As the months and years went on, we realized that it was more and more doubtful that he could be alive, but
we still had hope that he was a prisoner. That was the best we could hope for. As the war came to a close, the names
of the prisoners were released and he was not one of them coming home. That was a pretty rough time.” Then, in early
1975, the family received a telegram and a letter from the Department of the Army stating that, “Army records are
being amended to change your son’s status from missing to that of deceased as of 22 January 1975. … This date is
not an actual or probable date of death, but it is a date established in accordance with the law.” The Army also
posthumously promoted Cliff to major.
On the day Cliff disappeared, the battery he commanded had been shelling an enemy position in the Chu Lai area of
South Vietnam. He and his first sergeant boarded an OH-23 helicopter at 5:25 P.M. for the purpose of conducting a
visual reconnaissance to assess the damage his battery had inflicted, a mission that was scheduled to terminate by
6:10. After taking off, the helicopter was never heard from. Searches were begun that night and continued by air
and ground for four days. Loudspeaker aircraft were utilized and leaflets were disseminated offering a reward for
information concerning the helicopter. Unconfirmed information was received that a helicopter had gone down due to
mechanical failure and that three persons on board had been killed by the Viet Cong and the helicopter dismantled
and hidden in the river. However, a thorough search of the area revealed no evidence to substantiate this report.
Cliff’s good boyhood friend, R.E. (Sonny) Elmore, Jr., flew over that area about a year later and stated that,
“It is very difficult terrain – It has the capacity to swallow up small aircraft.” At the time of his disappearance,
Cliff was four days short of his twenty-fifth birthday. He had only been in Vietnam for three weeks.
Cliff and his two brothers, Dan (six years older) and Jack (four years younger), grew up on a family-size dairy farm
between Laurens and Clinton, South Carolina. Their father, Kenneth, was a farmer/builder and a lifetime Baptist
deacon. Their mother, Inez, worked around the clock, both helping with the farm and running the house. Cousin
Betty Smith remembers those times: “Some of my happiest moments are of us children playing in a creek that was
close to Cliff’s house. It may seem so simple now, but it was fun to spend the afternoon playing in Duncan Creek.
Crackers, peanut butter and Kool-Aid were a real treat and will never taste the same as they did then. Cliff and
his brother Jack coaxed me to cross a ‘footlog’ across this creek, and I felt like I had really done something special.
“Cliff was a down-to-earth person. Even though he achieved many high honors, he never lost sight of the important
things in life. He truly card about his family and friends and his church. He had a quiet way about him, but he
had a great influence on people in a positive way.
“His determination was unique. He set goals for himself in academics, athletics and personal goals and always
“A perfect example of his compassion for others was when his mother passed away. We all loved her dearly, and we
were so grieved. Cliff made a special effort to comfort us, even though he was hurting so himself.”
Another cousin, Evelyn Batson, recalls their youth together: “…riding Bonnie, the family horse, or loading the pickup
truck for a two-mile trip to Yarbers Mill. There, in a bend of the river, was a tall tree with a rope for swinging
over the river. Many hours were spent in this swimming hole. One memory of our childhood was the McKittrick family
goat. Nothing gave Dan and Cliff more pleasure than turning that goat loose on their female cousins. There was no
way to get away from that goat. I remember climbing on top of an automobile and the goat came right up behind me.
I ran into the house, but what do Dan and Cliff do but let the goat in the house. He chased us all the way up the
stairs, those long horns right behind us.
“Cliff was brought up in a Christian home, to work hard and to love, respect and rely on his Christian values in
life. … I sum up Cliff’s life by saying that he lived every day of his life to the fullest. He was truly a man of
compassion and great character. Cliff was the pride of his friends and family. Needless to say, it was hard when
we received the message ‘Missing in Action.’”
Cliff’s schooling began at Oak Grove, a rural two-room school that housed seven grades. His classmate there, Dr.
William Harris, presently the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Greenwood, said, “The thing I remember most
about him was his honesty and industry.” Sonny Elmore noted that, “He was never much interested in farming because
he was much more at home with an idea.” Cliff was the type who did not like to squander anything, especially time,
so he kept himself extremely busy. Beside schoolwork, sports and the farm chores, he also sold the True Grit
newspaper. It was well known that, although he was studious, Cliff was not a constant bookworm and was very popular
among his classmates. In fact he graduated as the class salutatorian from Clinton High School in 1960, having made
only one B to besmirch his record of straight A’s. He was also a star athlete and the president of his class.
Another classmate, Mrs. Charlton Law of Columbia (the former Linda Milam of Clinton) said, “I get chills standing
here thinking of him because his death was so untimely. He was such a well-regarded person.” Cliff’s record at
Clinton High was so outstanding that his brother Jack, upon beginning classes there three months after Cliff
graduated, went by the principal’s office and said, “I want to tell you one thing. Don’t expect Cliff’s grades
out of me.”
Cliff continued to excel in all areas at West Point as a member of the Class of 1964. Besides being known as a
true “Southern Gentleman,” he was highly respected as a well-rounded performer and a natural leader. Among his
many extracurricular activities was the Honor Committee, probably the most important cadet organization of all.
As a first classman, Cliff served as the executive officer of the first regiment, one of only nine five-stipers
in the class.
After graduating in the top twenty-five percent of the class, Cliff attended the Airborne and Ranger courses and
then reported to the First Battalion, 320th Field Artillery of the Eighty-second Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.
Jeff Kleb, USMA ’64, was also assigned to the 1/320th and recalls their time together there: “I hadn’t known Cliff
well as a cadet since we were in different regiments, but after spending our first year in the army together in the
Eighty-second Airborne Division it became clear that he was an extraordinary individual – level headed, loved by all,
patriotic, tough and determined. We both started out in the battalion with a problem, however – we knew nothing about
artillery since we hadn’t been to the basic course. Luckily, though, a great NCO then Sergeant First Class Carroll
Crain, took us aside and offered to tutor us (he also didn’t want us to be a detriment to the battalion). So, for the
next several months, after duty hours, he pounded all the aspects of field artillery gunnery into our heads. It was a
tremendous effort on his part, and Cliff and I worked like dogs to make up for what we’d missed, which we eventually
did. Carroll Crain was a real professional who later rose to be the command sergeant major of the Eighty-second
Airborne Division Artillery.
“Socially, Cliff was the penultimate bachelor whose bachelor pad was a relaxing place for lots of us junior officers
to get together. Conversely, he was so likeable that all the wives loved having him come home with their husbands
for dinner. He was the perfect guest and quite well fed.
“Cliff and I spent our last six months together in the Eighty-second in the Dominican Republic where we did a lot
of artillery training and parachuting. Charlie Hutchison’s death there was a
shock to both of us. Later, when I was in Vietnam and heard that Cliff was missing it tore me up. I hoped that
he’d been captured because I knew if anyone could escape, he could. I won’t stop hoping for a miracle until there
is positive identification of his remains. All of us in the class feel that way. Cliff was the cream of the crop
and a true friend.”
In the spring of 1967 Cliff deployed to Vietnam and took command of a firing battalion in the Third Battalion,
Sixteenth Field Artillery. The 3/16th was part of Task Force Oregon, which would be activated as the Americal
Division on 25 September of that year. Cliff was just beginning to get comfortable as a battery commander when
he, his first sergeant, and the helicopter pilot disappeared.
Another report that reached the McKittrick family in the months that followed was one that said the helicopter had
been shot down, dismantled, and buried in the riverbank, and that Cliff had been taken prisoner. His older brother,
Dan, expressed the family’s hope: “He was a paratrooper and a ranger, and we knew that if anybody could survive,
he could. But after a month or so, it began to sink in that he might not be coming back. But we still had hope.
We still do. There’s a little spot there.”
More than 2,000 Americans remain missing from the war in Southeast Asia. Even though in most of the cases there is
no indication that the missing person survived, their families have to maintain a “spot of hope.” In Cliff’s case,
the area where he disappeared is now under water. However, until his remains are identified, there will still be
some hope in a lot of hearts.
Despite their loss in Vietnam, both Dan and Jack McKittrick have said they stand behind their country’s military
efforts in that war and others. Jack summarized: “I thought like a lot of other Americans, that it was the right
thing to do to keep Communism in check. … I think we all learned that… if we send our soldiers out to fight, we
should let them win it and use whatever they need to defeat the enemy and get home.”
Cliff McKittrick was the epitome of a professional soldier and was destined for great things in the army. He was
as inspiration to all those who knew him and a totally dedicated officer and gentleman.
Betty Smith continues: “It was always a tradition to have a family Christmas dinner every year and one of our
uncles always returned thanks. I don’t know why, but on Christmas Day of 1966, someone asked Cliff to return
thanks, and he did. His prayer was very special and sincere. That was the last Christmas Cliff was with us.
“I remember the day we got word that Cliff was missing in action. This just couldn’t happen to Cliff! What a
sad time for all the family, so much grief, so much heartache.
“I feel privileged to have had Cliff for my cousin. I still think about him with the fondest memories. He was and
still is loved.”
~ Fallen Warriors The West Point Class of 1964 by John Murray
|VISIT WITH CLIFF McKITTRICK'S BROTHER JACK
|Thursday, 12 August 1999
On August 12th, I visited with Jack McKittrick, brother and next of kin of our classmate, Cliff McKittrick, who is
missing in action in the Republic of Vietnam. Cliff was in a helicopter that disappeared over Vietnam in June 1967.
Cliff's remains or any part of the crash site were never recovered.
Jack has placed a marker in the West Point cemetery for Cliff.
I gave Jack a framed copy of the print "The Wall". I also gave him a copy of the e-mails some of you sent to me
about Cliff, and I mentioned the phone call from Al Fulco.
With Jack was his own son, Cliff, and as you will see in the snapshots I took, he looks very much like the young Cliff
we remember from the 60's.
Jack was most appreciative of the visit and our remembrance. He plans on joining us at West Point for the memorial
service and lunch during our reunion.