U.S. Army Technician Fifth Grade Clifford H. Strickland was one of many who fought in the Battle of Bataan during World War II. Strickland and his fellow soldiers fought for 140 bitter days, expending all their ammunition. 

In the end, they surrendered and became prisoners of war (POW) and were forced into a 65-mile-long march now known as the Bataan Death March. Many died along the way, but Strickland persevered and rallied his comrades. He was only 25 years old when he succumbed to malnutrition and disease on July 29, 1942. The official cause of death listed in his records is malaria and dysentery.

“He made it as far as his body could last, but in those overcrowded positions with poor water and bad sanitation, so many of those men got sick,” said Strickland’s nephew, Pastor Clark Baldwin. “The day he was buried, there were 13 other men who died with him.”

He, along with several other veterans of the Battle of Bataan, was buried in Common Grave 215 at the Cabanatuan POW camp. Strickland was unaccounted for at the end of WWII, but now, his remains have been identified, and he’ll finally be laid to rest at home. 

He was the oldest surviving member of his family, with an extensive history of military service dating back to the Pequot War in 1636. Though many in the family didn’t get to meet Strickland, his memory remained alive through the letters and stories his many brothers, who also fought in the Philippines, would share with the family. 

“I remember growing up, my mom had a Pictorial History of WWII, a four-volume set,” Baldwin said. “As a kid, I remember always reading those and realizing that my uncle had died serving his country. It’s something that is tragic — something that leaves an imprint on a family.”

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In 1945, the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) exhumed the troops buried at the Cabanatuan cemetery and laid the remains to rest in a temporary U.S. military mausoleum near Manila, Phillippines. Two years later, the AGRS examined the remains in an attempt to identify those from Common Grave 215. 

Five soldiers were identified, but the rest remained unknown, including Strickland. The unidentified remains were then buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

The Strickland family made several trips to Manila to find their long-lost family member. They photographed Strickland’s name on the memorial and the thousands of unknown graves. Years had gone by, and the daunting thought of never finding him set in. 

Strickland, a native of Fowler, Colorado, was a devout family man who sent letters and money back home to his family whenever he could. Even though he was away at war, he still acted as an older brother, advocating for his family during wartime. 

“I even remember one time, one of the letters home talked about my Uncle Milton, who had just joined the service,” Baldwin said. “Clifford heard about it and said that he advised them to tell Milton not to take overseas duty because he wasn’t mature enough.”

In early 2018, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency requested DNA samples from Strickland’s surviving relatives and permission to disinter the remains for laboratory testing. The remains were then sent to the DPAA laboratory located at Hickam Field, Hawaii, for analysis, reigniting cautious optimism in the family. 

“I thought, well, this is like an impossible task — will this really happen? It’s kind of amazing that it had come that far,” Baldwin said. “At that point, it would have been 70 some years past. It was like they were never going to find him. We’d kind of given that hope up a long time ago as a family.”

Strickland was accounted for on Dec. 20, 2023, over eight decades after his death. The DPAA used dental records, anthropological analysis, and circumstantial evidence to identify Strickland’s remains. The DPAA then compiled an extensive report on Strickland and shared that with the Army Mortuary Affairs – Past Casualty office, which then coordinated a complete debrief with the family. 

“These reports talk about the service member’s unit, what that unit was doing leading up to when the service member went missing, and roughly where the service member is known or thought to have died,” said DPAA Media Relations Chief, Sean Everette. “It then goes into past and current-day recovery efforts. Those reports are then included with the information given to the families when they have their one-on-one, in-person identification briefing.”

The Strickland family had researched their uncle’s service, but they learned much more when they received their debrief. The debrief provided a complete picture of the family and connected Strickland to even the youngest, who’d never met him. 

Strickland’s nephew, Daniel Strickland, is a U.S. Air National Guard captain. He’s served for over 21 years and greatly respects his uncle and the greatest generation. Daniel’s deployments have ranged from six to 12 months, but he respects the greatest generation for going to war until it was over — “a totally different ballgame.”

Daniel will escort his uncle’s remains from Hawaii to Colorado for the funeral on June 29, 2024

“I’ll just say it’s the highest honor of my military career. I don’t even feel worthy to be asked to do it, nor worthy to carry the boots of the soldiers of that generation compared to what I’ve endured with my military experiences versus theirs,” Daniel said. “I feel honored to be asked to do it, and it’s wild that it’s for one of my relatives.”

Daniel and his uncle’s remains will be received in grand fashion. Several Colorado-based VFW posts are planning a welcome home ceremony before Strickland will be laid to rest. Baldwin and his cousin, also a pastor, will preside over the celebration of life and the burial. 

“I feel that responsibility and that weight, but I also feel that it’s best laid at our feet. My cousin and I both feel that we’ve been prepared for this,” Baldwin said. It’s something we both want to do and feel very honored, but also humbled by it.”

The family has had to process how Strickland’s “last six months of life were hell on earth” as part of the grieving process. But, he is remembered as a loving family man who fought honorably at Bataan and inspired the soldiers around him. Baldwin and Daniel both said Strickland’s burial will bring healing to the family. 

“It will bring a sense of closure to us all when the celebration of life and burial takes place,” Daniel said. “I mean, I’m sure it’s gonna bring a sense of closure and a lot of joy and a lot of happiness to be able to see it through and have a part in making it happen.”

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