A sea of memories

Yukon veterans, including Navy Seabee John Radcliff, honored at Spanish Cove Retirement Village

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John Radcliff, 95, a resident of Spanish Cove, served in World War II as a Navy Seabee on Okinawa and Guam in 1945. Radcliff and other veterans of the Yukon assisted living center were honored with a Veterans Day ceremony and party Thursday. (Photo by Robert Medley)

By Robert Medley

Managing Editor

In 1945, on Okinawa Island, the threat moved in quickly, recalls Yukon resident John Radcliff, and it caught the other Navy Seabees off guard.

Radcliff was just 19-years-old when he was surprised that night in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

It was not a Japanese attack, but a typhoon that hit. Radcliff and others survived in the chow hall, he said, recalling the storm Thursday as he rode in his motorized wheelchair across the Spanish Cove Retirement Village sidewalk on a sunny Veterans Day. Radcliff and other veterans at Spanish Cove were honored with an afternoon ceremony.

An olive drab green Marine field jacket belonging to Yukon veteran John Radcliff, 95, was lost in a typhoon on Okinawa Island in 1945. Decades later, the jacket was found and returned to Radcliff last year. (Photo by Robert Medley)

One story he has is about a field jacket that still brings back vivid memories, he said.

After the typhoon, his Marine-issued field jacket was lost. The camp was nearly destroyed. And he wouldn’t see the jacket until the year 2020.

“When I was on Okinawa in 1945, there was a typhoon. One hit the other side of the island and the second one hit us direct. We spent the night in the chow hall, which was the best, most sturdy building,” Radcliff said. “The next morning, we looked out and saw our camp was completely wiped out, everything we owned gone. The only thing we had was what we wore.”

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Somehow, years later, a woman in Tennessee found the jacket in an army surplus store, he said.

“It had my name in it, 301st Seabees and the year,” Radcliff said.

In March 2020, Radcliff got a call from a man in Oneida, Tennessee, Scott McNamara, who said his mother had bought his long lost jacket around 1990. For years, McNamara worked to track down Radcliff, and when he did he returned the jacket.

Radcliff showed the olive drab green field jacket that has been preserved well over the years.

Born in Yukon

Radcliff was born in Yukon in 1926. He enlisted in the Navy as an 18-year-old in May 1944. He was a heavy equipment operator, who only was on a ship “to go and to get out,” he said.

“I was in a construction battalion and we worked on the shore. We followed the Marines in after an invasion,” Radcliff said. “I operated a bulldozer most of the time,” Radcliff said. He was in Okinawa when the war ended.

Navy Seabee John Radcliff of Yukon pictured in 1945. (Photo provided)

In 1948, Radcliff was awarded for meritorious conduct as a member of the 301st USN Construction Battalion in support of military operations at Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa from July 1944 to September 1945. He received a letter from the U.S. Navy Department congratulating him on Nov. 21, 1948, that he still has today.

After World War II, he transferred from the Navy Reserve to the Air Force Reserve and he worked at Tinker Air Force Base. He worked on the B-29 aircraft bombers at Tinker.

The Veterans Day ceremony was important this year, especially since the number of World War II veterans dwindles each year, he said.

“We are kind of thinning out,” Radcliff said.

Radcliff has a daughter, Patricia Miles, in Yukon. His wife Vila Radcliff died in 2010. They were married 63 years. His son Anthony “Tony” Radcliff lives in Idaho.

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