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Witter, Gresham war hero, dies at 89

Clinton Witter earned the Bronze and Silver stars in action all over Africa and Europe during World War II
by: Contributed photo, Clinton Witter

Gresham lost a quiet war hero last month when Clinton W. Witter, 89, died of a heart attack Monday, March 17, in Las Vegas.

Witter, who moved to Nevada last September to be near his son, will be remembered in a memorial service at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 24 ,at Metro Church of Christ, 1525 N.W. Division St.

He lived most of his life in a bungalow on Roberts Street across the street from where he was born. The neighborhood is marked by historic homes built by his family. He was born in his family home on Aug. 11, 1918, to Arthur and Charlotte (Wihlon) Witter, went to Gresham grade and high schools and attended the University of Washington.

But he had a wanderlust and spent a year drifting around the country before joining the Army in 1939.

In an interview with The Outlook on November 11, 1986, Witter, blinded and disabled by his war experiences, told about World War II and the events that gained him the Bronze and Silver stars and a Purple Heart.

The Silver Star came, he confided, when emboldened by sips of stolen whiskey, he joined two other Americans to capture three-dozen Germans.

Witter started as a boxer in Army sports in the Pacific Theater in Hawaii. He said he 'boxed his way to the rank of corporal.'

Transferred from Hawaii before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, he took part in the initial landing in North Africa and fought in French Morocco. He was a guard outside the conference room when President Franklin D. Roosevelt met other war leaders in Casablanca. Transferred to the First Infantry under Gen. George S. Patton, he fought against German Gen. Erwin Rommel in Tunisia. Still with Patton he took part in the invasion of Sicily, scrambling behind tanks and over mountaintops through Italy. He was then shipped to England and went ashore in the second wave in Normandy.

In Europe he fought in Belgium and Germany and in the Battle of the Bulge. By then a sergeant, he was twice wounded, hospitalized, patched up and sent back to the front.

In the spring of 1945, his son William Witter says, his battle-weary father began to waver, asking his second-in-command to take charge. Sent to get something from a building, Witter told The Outlook: 'A shell called a 'screaming meemie' hit.' He remembered that he woke up under a door with what felt like a gun barrel wrapped round his leg. He was hauled, staring face up, in a Jeep to a hospital.

'I heard the words 'severe battle casualty' and that was enough for me,' he remembered. 'I fainted. When I woke up I was in England.'

A dapper man who put on a jacket just to cross his yard to go to the mailbox, Witter worked 12 years after the war until his gnarled leg, his headaches and his vision resulted in his full disability. It took him five years after the war, he said, to heal mentally and spiritually enough to get a job.

He married Gloria Caddy Tugman and adopted her daughter, Trudy. He and Gloria became parents to William Clinton Witter, who grew up to join the circus, becoming a clown and then ringmaster and finally starring on Broadway in 'Barnum.'

Clinton Witter told The Outlook in 1986 that he was troubled by children's questions about the war.

'After I got back they used to blow the noon whistle here,' he said. 'It about drove me crazy.'

Forty-one years after his discharge, Witter admitted he was 'resentful at the time of the war. I wasn't patriotic at all. I was mad because I was over there.' He could not then, he said, see 'the big picture.'

Asked if he would serve again, Witter first said, 'No.' Then he reflected and said, 'If I was in shape, and if they really needed me, I suppose I would go.'

Always clever with languages, he once confounded his German captors during the war, convincing them to give up and turn themselves in. He spoke five languages, was a student of the Bible and studied Latin. He was baptized into Metro Church of Christ in 1984.

His wife died in 1999 and his stepdaughter, Trudy, died in 2003. He is survived by his son in Las Vegas and two granddaughters.

A film of his life will be shown at his memorial service. Contributions are suggested to Metro Church of Christ.