John Clift was born on January 24, 1920, in Bluff City, Kansas. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on July 13, 1937, completed basic training at NTS Great Lakes, Illinois, in October 1937, and attended Ordnance School at NTS San Diego, California, from December 1937 to April 1938. TM3c Clift served at Submarine Base Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from May 1938 to July 1939, and then served as a Torpedoman aboard the submarine USS S-23 (SS-128) from July 1939 to January 1941, receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy on January 24, 1941. TM2c Clift reenlisted in the U.S. Navy on January 23, 1942, and served aboard the submarine USS Drum (SS-228) from January to February 1942. He then transferred to the submarine USS Grunion (SS-216) during her fitting out in February 1942, through her commissioning in April 1942, and until he was killed in action during a confrontation with the armed Japanese freighter Kano Maru on July 30, 1942. On August 22, 2007, a search team organized by the three sons of CDR Mannert Abele (the Captain of the Grunion when she was sunk) used a remotely operated vehicle to find a sunken vessel 3,000 feet down in the Bering Sea north of Kiska Island at the tip of the Aleutian Islands. On October 1, 2008, the U.S. Navy announced that the sunken vessel is the World War II submarine USS Grunion (SS-216).
His Navy Commendation Medal Citation reads:
For meritorious conduct as a member of the crew of the U.S.S. GRUNION which destroyed three enemy destroyers while engaged in a war patrol in enemy controlled waters. Despite severe and persistent anti-submarine measures resulting from these three successful attacks, the GRUNION was brought safely through the counter attacks and continued an aggressive war patrol. As a member of the crew of the GRUNION, your performance of duty was an important and material contribution to the prosecution of this war.