Staff Sergeant Clifford Donally Garrabrant

Insignia of VMF-224, “The Bengals”


Service Number: 273030

Birth and Early Life:
Clifford Garrabrant was the son of Albert and Vera Garrabrant of Los Angeles, California. He was born on December 9, 1919 and grew up in the city of Covina.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Garrabrant joined the Marine Corps on July 3, 1939. He attended boot camp at MCRD San Diego, and was sent to the Second Signal Company in September, where he attended radio school. Private Garrabrant completed his training in December, and was assigned as a radio operator to Fleet Marine Force Headquarters on January 15, 1940.

Service Prior to 1941:
February saw Garrabrant posted to HQ Battery of the First Defense Battalion, based in San Diego. He led a relatively calm existence monitoring radio traffic, enjoying liberties in Dago, and spending time on the rifle range; he was rated an Expert Rifleman (and granted a $5/month increase in pay) in May of 1940. The same month, he married Lillian Gandy.

After a few weeks detached with the Sixth Marines, Private Garrabrant was reassigned to Base Air Detachment 2 at San Diego, a post that would change his life. He was promoted to Private First Class on December 6 – this in addition to his new rating as a Specialist, Third Class Radio Operator.

Garrabrant moved to Pearl Harbor with his squadron in January 1941. He was promoted to Corporal in the spring, then to Sergeant that summer. The change in rank may have been in recognition of a career decision he made that year – to apply for training as a pilot. Sergeant Garrabrant’s wish was granted, and he left Hawaii in July to attend flight school in Pensacola, Florida.

Wartime Service:
Garrabrant was still in training when Pearl Harbor was attacked; he was plucked from training having qualified as a pilot but without receiving a commission. He transferred back out to California, and from there was posted to VMF-224 shortly before the fighter squadron flew for Guadalcanal.

Staff Sergeant Garrabrant made his first landing on Guadalcanal under the fire of a Japanese air raid; he flew on a handful of patrols and interception missions in the days that followed. Despite his lack of commission, he had been in the service longer than many of the lieutenants he served with, and was regarded as an equal on the ground and in the air.

SSgt Garrabrant (highlighted) with VMF-224 on Guadalcanal.
SSgt Garrabrant (highlighted) with VMF-224 on Guadalcanal.

Date Of Loss:
September 5, 1942, started badly on Guadalcanal. The Americans were wakened at 0200 by booming gunfire and sudden explosions; four enemy destroyers shelled the field, and daylight revealed that they had killed seven men from one of the defensive artillery batteries. A few hours later, word was received of an enemy landing attempt on the northwestern tip of Guadalcanal, and Staff Sergeant Garrabrant joined a flight of six Wildcats on a strafing mission. They sighted nine boats and lined up for an attack; enemy small-arms fire hit Second Lieutenant Robert Jefferies, whose Wildcat went down like a stone and exploded as it hit the ocean. Shaken by this loss, the flight returned and made their report, and Garrabrant was excused from the morning patrol.

Shortly after noon, the air raid sirens at Henderson Field sounded and all available pilots took off on an intercept course at 1207. Four Japanese aircraft went down in flames, and the attacking bombers jettisoned their payload and beat a hasty retreat before reaching the field. Three American fighters were damaged but managed to land, and all planes but one were accounted for by 1310.

Clifford Garrabrant was last seen attacking a group of Japanese planes. He never returned to Henderson Field, and was reported as missing in action.

Covina Argus Citizen, August 17, 1945
Covina Argus Citizen, August 17, 1945

Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Lillian Arvila Garrabrant

Clifford Garrabrant Junior was born in Los Angeles on March 24, 1943, six months before his father was declared dead.

Status Of Remains:

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.

2 thoughts on “Staff Sergeant Clifford Donally Garrabrant

  1. A big thank you goes to whoever put this together, this is the most my grandfather has heard about his brother in 70 years. It’s good to know Donny’s story hasn’t been lost.

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