Honored 80 years later: Awards for Clayton Houff come years after losing his life in World War II

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2024

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In September of 1943, Clayton Houff, of Austin, enlisted in the United States Navy at the age of 17, joining his brothers in fighting in World War II. Not even a year later, Houff was killed in action serving in Saipan during the Marianas Islands campaign.

Serving as a hospital apprentice second class, Houff was part of the early waves of soldiers hitting the beach in the campaign, treating and caring for soldiers who were injured, however, an explosion while he was treating downed soldiers took his life.

He was given the Presidential Unit Citation as part of the Marine Corps unit he was serving with as well as the Purple Heart. But 80 years later, thanks to efforts from members of his family, Clayton was given all the recognition he was due.

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Those include: the Combat Action Ribbon, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

“It makes me feel very happy. It’s mission accomplished,” said Matt Houff, the great nephew of Clayton. “We’ve been waiting so long and waiting for Uncle Clayton to get his World War II medals.”

The circumstances were marked by stories and letters following Clayton’s death, which happened while Clayton was treating a man following an explosion at the mouth of a cave.

In an Austin Daily Herald story, a letter to Clayton’s family from Lt. R.B. Reynolds was quoted and read: “On the morning of June 18, the second battalion of marines was advancing across the southern end of Saipan.”

Reynolds continued saying that the battalion stopped before a cliff with caves.

“Suddenly, one of the caves exploded, hurling rock over my platoon area and causing numerous casualties,” he wrote.

Clayton was noted as rushing to care for those wounded and while bandaging one of them was killed by a second, larger explosion.

He was buried in the cemetery of the Fourth Marine Division on Saipan before his body was returned to Austin, where it rests today next to his mother, Aletta Houff, at Oakwood Cemetery.

Matt began the work of looking into getting the medals for Clayton with the help of Larry Houff, the son of one of Clayton’s brothers, Virgil. They said it took about two to three months of working with the Veterans Affairs to secure the additional accommodations.

Larry said that finally being able to get the metals was something of a two-way street for the family.

“Part of it was pride, but a lot of anger,” Larry said. “My God, this should have been taken care of a long time ago.”

How Clayton was able to join the military at the age of 17 remains a bit of a mystery, but Larry guesses the desire to join had a lot to do with the fact that his brothers — Virgil, Chester, Ronald and James — were all serving while he was left at home.

“I think he felt guilty,” Larry said. “All of his brothers were serving.”

With the awards now with Matt, both he and Larry think that the current family are happy with the outcome that Clayton has finally received his recognitions.

“I think very proud and very happy,” Matt said.

And that would stand for past family members as well.

“I think his sisters would have been happy,” Larry added.