Clifton E. Dohrmann, the last president of the local Pearl Harbor survivors group, will be remembered by family and friends today when his ashes are buried at the veterans cemetery in Boulder City.
“He was a joy to know,” said military historian Bill McWilliams, who interviewed Dohrmann for his book, “Sunday in Hell — Pearl Harbor Minute by Minute.”
“I’ll always remember his marvelous sense of humor, absolute integrity and unremitting pride and patriotism,” McWilliams said. “(He) will always be missed in our lives.”
Dohrmann, 91, died June 10 of complications from pneumonia, said his wife, Ginny.
“He was a sweetheart. He was a true American. He believed in his country, and he believed in his God. He was one fine man,” she said Monday.
Kathi Wykoff of Sacramento, Calif., said her father was not only a hero during World War II but continued to be one in his later years by reaching out to young people and giving them direction in life.
“You could not ask for a better father or grandfather,” she said. “He was an amazing man.”
Clifton Ernest Dohrmann was born Dec. 27, 1921, in Grand Mound, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in Clinton, Iowa, and moved to Des Moines at age 9. He graduated from North High School in Des Moines in 1939.
He was fond of riding horses and joined an Army cavalry unit before enlisting in the Navy on Jan. 10, 1940. Because he couldn’t legally be in both services at the same time, he was honorably discharged from the Army and reinstated in the Navy, his wife said.
As an aviation mechanic, Dohrmann was assigned to Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on the north shores of Oahu when Japanese warplanes struck there moments before they attacked U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor.
Asleep in the barracks at Kaneohe Bay, he was awakened by explosions and ran with another sailor to a hangar, which was their duty station. Before they reached the hangar’s steel doors, a bomb exploded, sending out shrapnel.
“It split him open. I couldn’t do nothing for him. I kept running,” Dohrmann told the Review-Journal in 2011 for a story on the 70th anniversary of the attack.
He and other sailors grabbed three machine guns and set them up in a semicircle. As they fired at the attacking aircraft, the sailor next to him was hit. When the wounded sailor fell, he pulled the machine gun belt with him, jamming the gun.
Dohrmann couldn’t fire any more rounds, so he dragged his wounded comrade a short but safe distance from where Navy planes were ablaze. Parked in neat rows, the aircraft were easy targets for Japanese planes that Dohrmann said came in “low and slow” and took their time destroying them.
Dohrmann retired as a chief petty officer aviation mechanics mate.
He met Ginny, his wife of 30 years, in California. They moved from Sacramento to Las Vegas in 1987.
Dohrmann was the last president of Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Silver State Chapter No. 2, which disbanded after its active membership dwindled from 41 in 2001 to five in 2011.
Besides his wife and daughter Kathi Wykoff, he is survived by daughter Valarie Dohrmann; two stepsons, Mike Maher and Andy Maher; 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service and burial with full military honors will be from 12:40 to 1:20 p.m. at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.