A Choctaw Nation member and World War II veteran recently had a birthday he will never forget. On June 16, ten men were honored at the Oklahoma History Museum in Oklahoma City with the French Legion of Honor for their part in liberating France. Among those honored – Clarence Paul Ratliff. Ratliff’s mother is the late Maggie Barnett, an original enrollee of the Choctaw Nation.
Sujiro Seam, Consul General of France in Houston, on behalf of French President François Hollande, awarded the medals after a speech and ceremony.
Ratliff was born 94 years ago in Blanchard, Oklahoma. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in August of 1942. He was 20 years old, stood 5’8” and weighed 135 pounds at the time.
He was an officer and a pilot, and his nickname during his years in military service was “Chief.” Lt. Ratliff flew F6F Hellcats off the deck of the USS Kassan Bay, a CVE 69 escort carrier, as part of the fighting squadron VF-74.
On Aug. 15, 1944, Ratliff’s squadron participated in Operation Anvil-Dragoon, liberating southern France. The squadron provided air cover for Allied troops, as well as conducted seek-and-destroy missions.
Ratliff has never forgotten Lt. Cmdr. Harry Brinkley Bass, who was a man respected and admired. The hidden ground fire caused the commander of the VF-74 to become lost on Aug. 20, 1944. Ratliff was Bass’ wingman that day and his commander ordered him to stay high and provide top cover, while Bass went after ground targets.
Ratliff went on to say, the USS Brinkley Bass, a DD-887 Gearing class destroyer, was named after his commander and friend.
In November of 1944, Ratliff began the second cruise. This time on the USS Saratoga with the fighting squadron VF-48, flying F6F Hellcats in the Pacific Theater.
While in the Pacific Theater, he participated in operations against mainland China and supported the invasion of Iwo Jima.
The USS Saratoga suffered heavy casualties from numerous kamikaze attacks. Ratliff, who narrowly escaped being one of those victims, aided in recovering bodies and gave comfort to the wounded.
Ratliff’s third cruise began in April 1945, aboard the USS Monterey, again flying F6F Hellcats. The military assigned him to the fighting squad BF-34.
Ratliff witnessed the signing of the unconditional surrender of Japan, which took place in Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945. Ratliff was on the flight deck of the USS Monterey, which was anchored nearby and witnessed the signing from there.
By the end of his four years of service, Ratliff had earned the Air Medal with three Gold Stars, the Bronze Star with a “V,” American Campaign, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign with one star, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign with three stars, Liberation of the Philippines, Expeditions (For U.S. Navy Service), and the World War II Victory Medal.
Add to that list today, the French Legion of Honor, from a nation still grateful more than a half-century later.
Ratliff and his wife Juanita have three daughters and one son; 10 grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-granddaughters.
Although Ratliff is retired, he owns the 3R Bar Ranch, a third-generation family business, which Oklahoma designated as an Oklahoma Centennial Ranch. The 3R Bar Ranch has been in existence since 1905 and is a Limousin cattle ranch in Washington, Oklahoma.
Photo by Stacy Hutto / Choctaw Nation
Sujiro Seam, Consul General of France in Houston, awards the French Legion of Honor to Choctaw veteran Clarence Paul Ratliff for his missions as a fighter pilot in World War II.
Photo Provided by Debbie Lloyd
Lt. Clarence Paul Ratliff is shown during his time in service.