"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
 
"The Snare Of The Fowler"
You may have noticed the distinctive headgear that Clifton and several of his squadron mates are  wearing. The photo above provides us with a front and rear view. It does not conform with any issue Navy flight helmet we are aware of and in all probability may be a commercial item that was acquired by the squadron in numbers before they left the United States for the Pacific. Constructed of a cotton twill, heavier in weight than that used on the issue M-450, it has a padded chin section with a single leather strap which is secured on the wearer's left with a chromed buckle. Its rear goggle straps are also a matching brown leather. The narrow edge tape around the helmet's perimeter is a lighter shade than the body of the helmet. Shown below and at right is a "salty" example we were fortunate to find among a grouping attributed to VF-12 member Ensign R.D. "Red" Gatlin. The helmet has no Navy markings and there is no sign of a label or size tag to be seen. The American Optical Airway goggles, fitted with plastic lenses and included in the grouping, were probably a private purchase by ENS. Gatlin. 

Various views of CMDR Clifton and his "VF-12 helmet". He was an Annapolis graduate and pre-war Navy flier. Note his preference for Mk-I goggles and a Goodyear manufactured, Army Air Corps contract, B-3 vest.

Directly above, we see his helmet fitted with a Telephonics TH-37 headset. As seen in the photos of Clifton taken aboard Saratoga, this headset was replaced at some point with the improved Perm-o-flux manufactured ANB-H-1a headset with flat-sided earphones. This photo, with a Corsair in the background, was taken during Stateside training. Upon deployment, the squadron's Corsairs were taken away and they went into combat in Hellcats.

Below is ENS. Gatlin after returning from his first tour. After a promotion, he rejoined VF-12, which was reformed as part of the new Air Group Twelve, "Crommelin's Thunderbirds", as a replacement pilot in March 1945 while they were deployed aboard U.S.S. Randolph for their second tour. He is known to have had at least three confirmed victories during this second tour, but we have been unable to determine any details of his previous combat flying with the "Peg Leg Petes".
He is seen fourth from left in the front row of the squadron photo taken on the deck of the Saratoga.