Draggoo’s childhood dream led to a military service helping POW/MIA families

Connie Gustafson

Clayton Draggoo, owner of Atwood Family Funeral Directors in Greybull and Basin, served in the United States Army from 1998-2002.

Clayton was the fourth generation in his family to serve in the military. Knowing from a young age that he wanted to be a mortician and finding out he would have to wait a year to attend the mortuary school he chose, he decided to enlist. Researching all the branches of the military he decided on the Army. He said, “It had to be in line with what I wanted to do. The Army was the only branch that would guarantee I could go into mortuary affairs.” 

Clayton’s home base was Fort Lee, Virginia where he served as a mortuary affairs specialist in the 54th Quartermaster Company. From there he was deployed frequently around the world to lead or assist in mortuary operations. 

His first deployment was to Germany. He was stationed at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center-Mortuary (LRMC).  LRMC is the largest U.S. hospital outside the United States and is the sole military medical center throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The mortuary at LRMC serves all U.S. service members and coalition forces, Department of Defense civilians, dependents and other Americans assigned or deployed with the U.S. European Command and the U.S Central Command.

Clayton was part of the team that took care of the fallen. From arrival at the mortuary, to preparing the body and then arranging transport home, he was involved. He talked about one American soldier that that was to be buried in Paris. He had married a French lady and made his home there. Clayton was charged with driving the solder in the hearse from LRMC to the cemetery in Paris. “What an experience to drive a hearse in Paris,” he said. 

While Clayton was in Germany, he also took part in missions to locate the remains of soldiers from WWII. His team traveled throughout Europe on recovery missions. He told the story a P38 Fighter jet pilot that had gone down in Italy. The niece of the fallen soldier lived in Texas and was able to persuade local politicians to convince the army to try to locate her uncle. Clayton’s team was sent to the village in Italy near the crash site. Through conversations with villagers they were able to locate a man in his 80s who remembered the crash as a young boy. He escorted the recovery team to where he believed the crash site was. Within a week they located the skeletal remains and dog tags of the missing pilot along with one of the 50 caliber machine guns that had been on the plane.

After his time in Germany he was sent to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI). The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) was a task force stationed at the CILHI whose mission was to account for Americans who are listed as Prisoners of War (POW), or Missing in Action (MIA), from all past wars. It is the world’s largest forensics anthropology laboratory. All of the DNA analysis of bone fragments takes place at the lab.

From CILHI, Clayton and his team went on missions to Laos and Thailand to locate and dig up remains of the fallen.  The United States government would pay the Laos officials large sums of money to allow the team in. The officials would then put the word out to villagers that bucket line and screening people were needed to assist the Army in their digs. Villagers would arrive on foot from sometimes up to a hundred miles away to work for the duration of the digs for nominal pay. After the remains were recovered the team would return to the lab in Hawaii and analysis would take place.

Clayton was then dispatched to the Pentagon the day following the 9-11 attacks. Starting the morning of September 12, 2001, under the watchful eye of the FBI, he and his unit worked for a month recovering remains from the victims of the attack.

From there, Clayton’s tour in the service took him to Kandahar, Afghanistan where he served for a year. While there his unit conducted the recovery effort for the Tarnak Farm incident which took place on the night of April 17, 2002. It took the lives of four Canadians. These deaths were the first Canadian casualties in Afghanistan and the first Canadian deaths in a combat zone since the Korean War.

An American pilot and his wingman were returning to their base after a night patrol. While flying they saw fire. The fire was from Canadian Forces anti-tank and machine-gun exercises, which were taking place on a former Taliban firing range.  The pilot descended to take a closer look and after seeing another firing plume from antitank weapons that appeared to him to be firing, he made the decision to drop a 500-pound bomb. Along with the four Canadian soldiers that perished in the attack, eight were wounded. 

Clayton’s unit spent the next several days recovering the remains of the Canadian soldiers while Black Hawk helicopters hovered overhead and Special Forces on the ground surrounded the recovery site to ensure the team’s safety. This was just one of the many high profile incidents that were going on at the time.

Clayton completed the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC) at Fort Knox, Kentucky attaining the rank of Sergeant (E-5) in under two and half years of service.

Clayton is grateful for the years he served in the United States Army. He traveled worldwide, made great friends and gained valuable experience for his career. As owner of Atwood Family Funeral Directors he ensures every family who has lost a loved one that served in the military is given full military honors when they are laid to rest.