Community honors local fallen soldier

A year ago, on Sept. 7, word began to spread throughout the Cabarrus County community that Army Pfc. James Fleet McClamrock had died in Iraq.

McClamrock was guarding a company commander who was meeting with Iraqi security forces near Baghdad. An Iraqi soldier opened fire on the Americans, killing McClamrock, 22, and another soldier from the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division.

They were the first Americans to die in Iraq since combat operations formally ended a week earlier.

McClamrock's body came home Sept. 15, 2010. Interstate 85 was closed temporarily so his body could be escorted from Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, through Concord, to his grave in Kannapolis.

Hundreds of members of the veterans motorcycle group Patriot Guard Riders, law enforcement and emergency personnel traveled in a mile-long procession as spectators lined streets and overpasses to wave flags, cheer and salute.

About 100 people gathered in downtown Concord the morning of Sept. 7 for a memorial service that paid tribute to the fallen soldier and marked the one-year anniversary of McClamrock's death. Patriot Guard Riders, local law enforcement officers, government officials, family members and friends attended the service.

The McClamrock family - including James' wife, Shannah - joined the Historic Cabarrus Association to create the memorial. The Cabarrus County Veterans Museum then unveiled a special exhibit in tribute to James McClamrock. The exhibit will be on display through Nov. 10.

"It's phenomenal that they've been able to take all these remnants and put them together in a way that reflects James from his youngest (years) to his death," said James' mother, Susan.

Personal memories

During the memorial, family members read letters from soldiers in McClamrock's unit who described him as a loved and respected soldier, a mentor who could humble them one moment and build them up the next.

McClamrock's parents, Mark and Susan McClamrock, recently moved the family to Concord, where Mark grew up and where James' grandfather, Fleet McClamrock, was on the police force for 37 years.

Mark, a pastor at a Concord church, said the memorial was bittersweet. He spoke about an interaction he had with his son during an Internet video call, in which James told him how badly he wanted to be awarded his Combat Infantry Badge.

"Keep in mind, God's timing is not always perfect," Mark told him. "Yeah, but it's too bad it's not always clear," James replied.

Mark later said that when they collected James' belongings, they found an open Bible.

Kathryn Wentz, one of James' sisters, spoke about their relationship and how poking fun at each other was their way of saying "I love you."

Wentz also spoke about the meaning of tattoos she got in her brother's honor.

Concord's Patty Fantetti made the McClamrocks a memorial quilt. The quilt, loaded with family photos and war medals, serves as a focal point in the exhibit.

Photos of James serving in the Army are mixed with copies of hand-written journals; letters written to James, after he died, by the "brothers" in his unit; war medals and uniforms; and letters from President Barack Obama and other government officials.

"It was beautiful," James' oldest brother, John, said after the memorial. "I wish I could bring him here to see everybody and all the other people that are here. That's what I want. There is nothing else second, there is not even a distant second to that.

"But it is great to see how they set everything up (in the exhibit). They mixed personal stuff with stuff from the Army perfectly. The dedication upstairs (in the Davis Theatre) was great, the speakers - it was all about why we we're here. It brought something out of everybody."

Bittersweet memorial

It also was bittersweet for Shannah McClamrock.

"It makes me sad. It makes happy. It makes me mad that he's not here," said Shannah. "But it's a good thing. It means a lot."

"I miss talking to him, I miss hearing him tell me he loves me, I miss him annoying the crap out of me," she said. "That's what I miss: joking with him, hearing his voice, seeing his face."

Michael Eury, executive director of the Historic Cabarrus Association, said there are no plans for annual memorial events but that the association is determined to help keep McClamrock's memory alive beyond the exhibit.

"The McClamrock family has been extremely kind and helpful in providing materials of James's military career and life, and it's my great privilege to have gathered those items together in this special exhibit and for this memorial," said Eury.