James Neton: Clovis “Bud” Harper — the gift of a life

James Neton

History in Focus

The devastating economic upheaval of the Great Depression uprooted families across America. Death in World War II left families to cope with lonesome empty spaces at the dinner table. Yet, the millions who endured these trials bequeathed a gift to us. Through their blood, sweat, and tears they each helped forge the freedom and peace we still enjoy today. The life of Clovis “Bud” Harper gives us a chance to feel how the heavy weight of these times played out on one family of the Yampa Valley.

Bud was born in Oklahoma City in 1924. His parents, Floyd and Georgia, raised cotton on the family farm.

In 1934, the unforgiving Dust Bowl forced the family to head west and settle in the Blue Mountain area. As the fifth child of a clan that ultimately numbered thirteen children, Bud was forced to work. The 1940 census listed the fifteen year old boy as sheepherder, a lonely and difficult job.

Economic insecurity and hunger were constant companions. In 1936, the Craig Empire Courier (CEC) reported Floyd was arrested for desperately stealing bales of wool from a warehouse. In October of 1938, on a hunting trip west of Meeker, Floyd suffered a broken hip when he was thrown from the back of a truck as it crashed over an embankment. At times, Georgia woke up to the harsh reality of bare cupboards and hungry children.

In April of 1940 the family’s home, a two bedroom bunkhouse on the Nelson ranch, burned to the ground. “Two beds and bedding and all clothing in the building were destroyed. The damage was estimated at $800,” reported the CEC. Finally, Bud landed a good job at Victor Mine near Mount Harris and the family moved to Hayden.

In September of 1942 the Selective Service demanded 62 men from the Routt County draft board. Bud opted to enlist in the Navy, and the Seaman First Class was assigned to the destroyer USS Aulick.

On furlough in November of 1943, Bud found his father stricken with cancer while his mother cared for seven children still at home. According to the vignette about Georgia’s life in the History of Hayden and West Routt County 1876-1989, Bud struggled with leaving. “If I go, I’ll never see you again,” he lamented to his Mother.

A year later, the Aulick steamed into Leyte Gulf as part of the armada supporting the Allied invasion of the Philippines.

While on antisubmarine patrol on November 29, six Japanese planes pounced on the Aulick. Bud manned his gun to help send up a canopy of protective flak, but one plane squeaked through and landed a bomb just before exploding 20 yards off the port bow. Another Japanese plane crashed into the starboard bow. Bud was killed instantly along with thirty of his shipmates.

A week later, Bud’s father passed away. The family sent word to Bud; instead a telegram arrived the day before Floyd’s funeral informing Georgia he was dead. The commanding officer of the Aulick wrote to Georgia, “I…assure you that your son did not die in vain, and that this ship will continue to do its share in obtaining final victory.”

Despite carrying such a heavy burden, Georgia remained steadfast in her faith in God and raised the rest of her children while working as a housekeeper at the Solandt Hospital in Hayden. She died at the age of 83 in 1981.

The USS Aulick also survived, and in 1959 the dauntless destroyer was transferred to the Greek Navy and rechristened Sfendoni (Slingshot). In 1997, she was finally scrapped.

In August of 1948, Bud’s repatriated remains were laid to rest in Hayden. His name on the new WWII memorial in Veteran’s Memorial Park is a testament to the gift we have received from so many families that persevered through the Great Depression and World War II..

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