Wineka column: A solitary salute

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 21, 2011

CONCORD — The old soldier stood there, long after the hundreds of mourners had left.
He stood there, saluting, as he faced the grave of Pvt. James McClamrock.
Wearing the narrow cap of a Legionnaire, the man stayed fixed with the salute for a long time. Workers decided to wait until he was through before lowering McClamrock’s coffin into the ground.
McClamrock’s mother, Susan, had never heard of this quiet, graveside tribute to her son until this past Monday, exactly four months after James’ funeral. Her son, an Army infantryman, had been killed Sept. 7 in Iraq and the services back home were held 10 days later.
Susan McClamrock went by Carolina Memorial Park in Kannapolis on Monday to discuss a correction to her son’s headstone, and the office personnel said they had some photographs for her.
“I went through them and sent them to Walgreens for printing — the picture of this man caught me by surprise,” Susan says.
“He waited until the funeral party had left and was there with just the maintenance guys. Apparently, they said, he stood surrendering honors for at least 20 minutes with tears flowing down his face onto his white shirt … It left an impact on the workers, as it did us.”
The photograph of the veteran’s salute is a simple, yet poignant moment. Susan McClamrock cried when she saw it, and she has made it a mission to find the older gentleman, who wore suspenders and had a cane.
“If I could ever meet him, I would just like to thank him for the way in which he honored James’ life as a fallen hero,” Susan says. “I’d like to listen to him about his past service — we owe him that much.”
Susan posted the photograph on her Facebook page, and it prompted more than 140 responses. Many of her friends are posting the photograph, too, and asking around for information on whom the man in the cemetery might be.
“As an old vet and a three-star, blue star Dad, I can tell you exactly who he is,” William Burlingame said in his post. “He is a veteran. He did what all vets should and would do. He just honored a fallen brother.”
As of Friday, the veteran’s identity remained a mystery.
“Because he didn’t know James, I wonder what he was thinking,” Susan McClamrock says. “Was it a hurtful reminder of his service as his brothers lay dying, or did he lose a child in war and it triggered sadness in his heart?”
It’s been a tough week for Susan McClamrock. She visited her son’s grave Monday, knowing that had he survived his mission to Iraq he would be coming home on R&R.
Cemetery workers tell her that people visit James’ grave all the time, often leaving nickels and quarters. She thinks the quarters are to signify his being part of the 25th Infantry, based out of the famous Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
James McClamrock, 22, was one of two U.S. soldiers killed Sept. 7 at a military base about 130 miles north of Baghdad.
He was resting between security missions when a man dressed as an Iraqi soldier opened fire on his unit, killing McClamrock, Sgt. Philip C. Jenkins of Decatur, Ind., and wounding nine others.
McClamrock and Jenkins were the first two soldiers killed after President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq the week before.
There were nearly 50,000 troops in Iraq as of Aug. 31 last year, and those soldiers remaining are supposed to be training Iraqi forces, providing security for State Department missions and helping Iraqi forces hunt down insurgents.
McClamrock is survived by his wife of two years, Shannah; his parents, Susan and the Rev. Mark McClamrock, pastor of Concord Associate Reform Presbyterian Church; and five siblings.
James, the second oldest of the children, grew up in the Hendersonville and Statesville areas. The McClamrock family had moved to Troutman in Iredell County in 2001. They now live in Concord.
About a year before his death, James McClamrock took leave from his job as a Charlotte-Douglas Airport baggage screener and enlisted in the Army.
He told family members it was what God wanted him to do.
Hundreds attended his Sept. 17 funeral and the 21-gun salute, graveside goodbye. It was the largest crowd ever at Carolina Memorial Park.
Susan McClamrock has some reservations about trying to track down the old soldier from the cemetery. She wants to protect his privacy, but she also wants to thank him.
“The picture says a million words to us — honor, pride, patriotism, sadness from losing a brother, respect and so many more,” Susan says.
“It honored us as a family to know that someone would honor James quietly without wanting to be admired.”
Susan McClamrock can be contacted though her Facebook page or e-mail susan.mcclamrock@ssa. gov.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@