By David Fleet
Brandon Twp.-Whether in a Mediterranean conflict, on American soil or Memorial Day service— Cliffert D. Filhart is a Marine.
“I enlisted right after high school,” said Filhart, a township native, 1955 Ortonville High School graduate and football, basketball, baseball and track standout. “I was going to join the Air Force. But I found out they all don’t carry rifles. All the Marines are riflemen so I signed up.”
Cliff’s father was in the second world war, a Seabee who was part of the first landing at Guadalcanal on June 7, 1942.
“That inspired me,” said Filhart, 81. “I did not know what to do after school—I had no goals. So I decided to join the Marines and let them make up my mind. They never did but the Marines were the toughest and the best outfit out there. It’s the pride the ‘esprit de corps,’ (the spirit of the body). My dad was a disciplinarian—so when it came time for the Marines bootcamp it was a piece of cake.”
Son of Cliffert L. and Wilma Filhart—Cliffert D. was one of nine siblings including eight boys and one girl. He is also one of seven brothers who served in the military—four Marines and three Army.
“No Navy,” laughed Filhart. “In spring of 1955 I enlisted. No regrets. To this day it’s ‘Semper Fi’ (always faithful). Some of these outfits just did not have it—they did not care—the Marines do. I’m proud of that.”
Cliffert shipped out from Detroit to “Diego,” or San Diego Marine Base Camp, then Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton an studied at radio teleagraph school.
“I was a basic communicator,” he said. “But you’re still a rifleman. I then had my choice of duty stations and it was Camp Lejeune N.C., it was close to home and it was the second Marine Division.”
Filhart was then shipped out on a “Med. Cruise.”
On July 26, 1956, Egypt’s President Gamal Abdul Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal possibly pushing the world toward another World War. According to historians on Oct. 29 that year, Israel attacked Egypt. On Oct. 31, British and French jets attacked Egyptian oil fields; Nov. 4, Egypt blocked the Suez Canal; Russia threatened rocket attacks on Paris and London; and on Nov. 7, the United Nations General Assembly agreed to a police force for Egypt. The American Embassy received orders to evacuate all Americans.
“They shipped us to the Mediterranean area where we received orders to get about 300 Americans out of Egypt,” he said. “We landed at Alexandria (Egypt). There were just snipers shooting at us but I did not get hit. We moved out a lot of people including students from that embassy.”
In July 1958 President Eisenhower authorized Operation Blue Bat. U.S. troops landed on the beaches of Beirut and remained in the city until October.
“I went on my second ‘Med. Cruise, Ike was president and it seemed like every time something happened my battalion was over there,” he said. “We did not know what was happening they just sent us in. Just do your job. One Marine got killed by a sniper. But they can’t shoot like a Marine sniper or a Navy Seal can. That’s my opinion. We set up a command post near the Serian boarder and stayed there.”
In 1958 Filhart was home in Michigan on leave.
“I was going to be a career Marine,” he said. “But I met this pretty little girl and it changed my mind—Diane. We got married in October 29, 1960. I had a four year active hitch and four year reserve. Vietnam was just starting and I got out in 1963. They never called me but I had two brothers in Vietnam. I had a wife and two children so that may be why. I was still in pretty good shape.”
The day Filhart was out of the service he was at home when his father slaughtered four hogs.
“We took the hogs up to Green Lake Meat Market,” he said. “We took them down there and put the hogs on hooks and my dad said put this guy to work. Ray the owner did not have a meat cutter at the time. I did not know beef from pork—I had no desire to be a meat cutter. But he hired me for $40 per week and he trained me very well.”
“I love cutting meat,” he said. Filhart worked 47 years as meat cutter for several area companies including Hamady, Kroger and Farmer Jack.
Diane died May 13, 2015—the couple was married for 54 years. They have three children, Amy, Dean-Scott and Dale.
Filhart continues to be active with the Ortonville VFW and often commands the firing squad for funerals and events.