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A 25-year-old Colorado soldier whose remains were identified 82 years after his death as a World War II prisoner of war was honored Saturday in Pueblo during a ceremony attended by numerous family members and veterans.

Technician Fifth Class Clifford Harley Strickland of the U.S. Army Air Forces was among those captured in April 1942 and endured the Baatan Death March.

On Saturday, family members held a memorial service for Strickland at the historic Hobbs Field at the Runyon Sports Complex. Strickland was from Fowler, a small community about 35 minutes southeast of Pueblo.

His remains were flown back to Colorado so he could be buried near his parents, Clarence and Lydia Strickland, in Florence, a community about 40 minutes northwest of Pueblo, according to an obituary.

“I think we were able to have some closure after 82 years, but not as much as when he came home,” said Quita Smith, one of Strickland’s nieces.

Background information on Clifford Strickland

After his enlistment, Strickland was a member of the 803rd Engineer Battalion and part of the Philippine Department. The troops were tasked with the defense of the Philippines and training the Philippine Army. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, he was captured after the American surrender of the Bataan Peninsula on April 9, 1942.

The entire platoon was forced on the death march to Bataan. He was eventually held in the Cabanatuan prison camp in the province of Nueva Ecija, where he died on July 29, 1942. When the camp was liberated in early 1945, about 2,800 Americans had died in Cabanatuan.

He was buried along with other American prisoners of war who died during their captivity in common grave 215 at the local Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery.

After the war, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) officials exhumed the remains of those buried in the cemetery and transferred them to a makeshift U.S. military mausoleum near Manila. Those whose remains could not be identified were buried as unknowns at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

Decades later, in 2018, as part of the Cabanatuan Project, the remains of Common Grave 215, including five sets of remains, were sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis. The laboratory analysis and available evidence confirmed a link between one set of these unknown remains and Strickland, the accounting agency said.

Strickland was the third of 11 children born to his parents in Fowler. The family – especially his father and mother – struggled to cope with his loss, the obituary said.

He wrote letters almost weekly, which clearly expressed his longing for home, according to the obituary.

“We know him through the stories they told about him at family gatherings and reunions and through all the pictures and letters they kept and passed on to us,” his family wrote. “Stories about how hard he worked on the farm, how much he loved to sing the song ‘Cool Water,’ how much he loved horses and even volunteered for a horse and mule unit that was sent to the Philippines.”

Memorial service at Runyon Sports Complex

The memorial service was held at Hobbs Field and was attended by nearly 80 of Strickland’s family members, including Smith, his niece and one of his oldest living relatives.

DNA from his niece, her mother, Strickland’s sister and one of Smith’s cousins ​​helped positively identify his remains.

This step meant that his relatives could finally honor their uncle appropriately.

“It was beautiful and very moving,” Smith said of the service. “We are very grateful to Pueblo for this and to everyone who participated. They did a wonderful job, thank you very much.”

In addition to a flyover and skydivers, there was a 21-gun salute. Country music artist Colton James sang and the crowd also heard a special performance of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

Volunteers lined the field with flags and placards in Strickland’s honor. These placards and flags were then presented to the family. In total, there were 82 flags and placards, each representing the years that Strickland remained unidentified. His remains were then taken to Florence for burial.

The Strickland family expressed their gratitude for the memorial service in memory of their uncle and to those who helped organize it.

More: Family of Air Force veteran in Pueblo can find closure with homecoming of his remains

Christopher Abdelmalek is a sports reporter for the Pueblo Chieftain and can be reached at [email protected]. You can also follow him on X, formerly Twitter, at @chowebacca. Support local news and subscribe to the Pueblo Chieftain at subscribe.chieftain.com.

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