Joseph Clinton Clifton was born in Paducha, Kentucky on 31 October 1908. He attended the University of Kentucky for two years, before leaving for the US Naval Academy.
He was commissioned as an Ensign, USN, in 1930. He became Naval Aviator 3906 upon his winging on 17 March 1932.
He then reported to the USS TRENTON (CL-11) as a member of VS-5B, flying from the deck of the cruiser (!) as flagship of the Pacific Battle Fleet. Next, he served with VF-4, flying from the deck of the USS RANGER (CV-4).
In 1942, he became the Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron 12, (the first squadron to be equipped with the new F4U Corsair) until his promotion to Fighter Group 12 in 1944.
While here, in April 1944, he led the joint British-US raid, Operation COCKPIT, attacking Sambang, northwest of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies. This mission unloaded 30 tons of bombs on Japanese installations, destroying two Japanese merchant vessels, two destroyers, one escort vessel, 24 Japanese bombers on the ground, a large refueling station, a power station, barracks and dockyard.
This raid wreaked havoc in the Japanese High Command, who had thought, up to that time, that the Allied naval presence had been eradicated from the Indian Ocean.
That May, he once again led a US-British joint mission, Operation TRANSOM, against Japanese installations in Surabaya, destroying the harbor and oil refineries, as well as 12 Japanese aircraft and one merchant vessel.
For his leadership in these two raids, the British awarded him the Distinguished Service Order!
Following these raids, he departed the combat zone and became the Flight Training Officer at the Naval Air Station, Green Cove Springs, Florida.
In early 1945, he left for the Pacific theater, where he became the Executive Officer of the carrier USS WASP (CV-18), and in 1946, became its Commanding Officer.
His Navy Unit Citation was awarded to the USS WASP (CV-18) for the period of March to August 1945, while he was serving as Executive Officer. During this time, the WASP conducted numerous raids on mainland Japan, and suffered serious damage when it was hit by a 500 pound Japanese bomb, which killed over 100 of the crew.
After this tour, he was assigned to the Air Warfare Division of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations. In 1949, he ‘rolled’ from here to assume the duties on the Staff of Commander, Fleet Logistics Support Wings, Pacific Area.
That same year, he became the Commanding Officer of Transport Squadron 8, and in 1951, became the re-commissioning Commanding Officer of the USS CORSON (AVP-37), taking her on two deployments to Korea during the Korean War.
In 1952, he was transferred to become the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training on the Staff of Commander, Air Forces, US Pacific Fleet. He served here until 1954, when he became the Commanding Officer, Naval Air Station, Memphis.
His next tour lead him to become Commander Barrier Atlantic and Airborne Early Warning Wing Atlantic. He served here from 1956 to 1958, when he was promoted to Rear Admiral and commanded the Naval Advanced Training Command.
In 1960, he went back out to the Fleet as Commander, Carrier Division 7, Seventh Fleet. He retired in 1963.
His final decorations were: Legion of Merit with “V” for combat valor, and gold star for second award, Distinguished Flying Cross with two gold stars, and Air Medal with two gold stars.
He has a building at the University of Kentucky named in his honor, the prestigious “RADM Joseph C. Clifton” award is given to the TOP fighter squadron in the US Navy each year and he is memorialized in the Hall of Honor at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.