MOUNT PLEASANT - Claude J. Clifton thought he was going to Patriots Point on Tuesday as a volunteer to talk about his experience in the Navy during World War II.
Instead, Clifton, 91, was the honoree at a surprise ceremony to present him with medals he earned during his time in the service but had lost or misplaced over the years.
"This is the best thing that's ever happened in my life," said Clifton, of Mount Pleasant, as he wiped away tears during the ceremony aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown. "I didn't expect anything like this."
Clifton was a petty officer second class, an aviation machinist mate who first served aboard the aircraft carrier Ranger and then on the Essex, another carrier, for five years during the war.
His daughter, Marty Young, arranged the ceremony as a surprise for her father. She didn't even tell her mother, Ann Clifton.
"I thought she might have a little trouble keeping it from him," she said.
For her birthday Dec. 6, Young wanted to visit the Yorktown with her family to hear her father's war stories.
"Daddy gave us a tour of the ship and told us about some of his experiences," Young said. "We talked about his service and his medals and he was saying how he'd love to have them now."
Days later, Young, who works at Starbucks, asked her friend and customer, retired Rear Adm. David Shimp, if it was possible to replace the medals. Shimp turned to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
"It was the least my office could do," Graham, R-S.C., said. "What we celebrate as history was Mr. Clifton's youth."
Clifton was presented Tuesday with the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Philippine Liberation Medal (with one bronze star indicating he is twice qualified to wear the medal), the Navy Discharge button, the Honorable Service lapel button and an American flag that was flown over the Capitol. He also will have details of his military service entered into the Navy Log, a legacy of honor that tells the stories of Sea Service veterans.
"I was concerned it might be too much for him," Young said of surprising her dad. "I think it's going to take a while for it to sink in for him, but I've been so proud of my dad and what he stands for and I am just happy I was able to recognize him in this way."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
Payton Walker, 4, close family friend of Claude James Clifton Jr., waves a flag as Clifton is escorted in during a ceremony to him with medals he had lost long ago Tuesday aboard the USS Yorktown.×
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