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Wineka column: Remembering a soldier, son, brother, husband

CONCORD — Kathryn Wentz often wears a dress or top that reveals a tattoo just below her right collarbone.
It’s a sentence, scrawled in the herky-jerky swiftness of a young soldier — the last thing Kathryn’s brother James ever wrote to her.
She had the tattoo artist copy it exactly as it was on her birthday card.
“And remember I love my little sister,” James had scribbled.
A year ago Wednesday, Army Pfc. James McClamrock was killed at a military base in Iraq about 130 miles north of Baghdad. A man disguised as an Iraqi soldier opened fire on his unit while it was resting between security missions. The terrorist’s bullets killed 22-year-old McClamrock and Staff Sgt. Phillip C. Jenkins of Decatur, Ind.
Nine others in his platoon were wounded.
On the one-year anniversary of his death, Kathryn Wentz wore a dark dress, scooped at the top so her tattoo would show. She explained Wednesday that it’s not an ugly font the tattoo artist had chosen.
“It’s James’ font,” she said, down to the imperfect “little” in “little sister.”
Many people ask her what the tattoo says, and she invites the query, because it gives Kathryn a chance to tell them about her soldier brother.
The pair always kidded, joked and traded insults with each other, the way brothers and sisters do. Wenz, 19, laughs whenever she sees a truck carrying a “wide load” sign.
“He told me I needed a belt that said that,” she said.
They also called each other “Bubba Cheeks.” As children, both were roly-poly and had chipmunk cheeks, Wentz explained.
She has another tattoo in James’ honor, saying “My brother, my soldier, my hero,” and she acknowledged Wednesday that she probably will have more.
The card James had sent Kathryn for her 18th birthday depicted two overweight people on the beach in skimpy bathing suits. It warned that “Two thongs do not make a right.”
Inside, James penned a personal jab that said, “I just wanted to show you what the future holds,” before he ended with the sentence Kathryn has decided to keep with her forever.
James was not one to use the word “love” liberally when it came to her, according to Kathryn. He signed the card “Bubba Cheeks.”
Michael Eury, executive director of Historic Cabarrus Association, organized a memorial tribute to James McClamrock Wednesday at the Old Courthouse’s Davis Theatre. Eury and James’ mother, Susan McClamrock, also put together an exhibit honoring McClamrock in the Cabarrus County Veterans Museum.
A stageful of dignitaries and family members spoke at the morning tribute, including U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell and Concord Mayor Scott Padgett. The Patriot Guard riders also played a significant role in the proceedings.
James McClamrock came from a big family. He had five siblings and was especially close to John, his older brother by 11 months.
John read from letters the family received from a lieutenant and sergeant in James’ regiment. The men described James as a patriot and good soldier who completed his tasks without complaint. He was optimistic, liked to keep things light and was a little bit of a prankster.
Over the past year, Susan and Mark McClamrock have met the Wolfhounds of the 27th Infantry Regiment who served with their son.
“I know one thing,” Susan said. “They loved each other, and after his death, they became more of a family.”
Mark McClamrock, pastor at Concord Associate Reform Presbyterian Church, read from a Skype conversation he had with James not long after his son arrived in Iraq. Throughout the exchange, James expressed frustration for having gone through all his infantry training without being able to put it to use.
At one point, he even discussed re-enlisting in hopes he would be sent to Afghanistan. His father advised patience and trust in God on that occasion.
An Army chaplain told Mark later that when James’ belongings were collected after his death, he noticed that James had left an open Bible on his bunk before leaving on his last mission.
James’ young widow, Shannah, attended Wednesday’s memorial and wore his dog tags around her neck.
It was a year ago when Susan McClamrock heard on a television news report about the death of two yet-to-be identified soldiers and the wounding of nine others. She called Mark and told him they should pray for the men and their families, which they did before going to bed.
The knock on the door that no soldier’s parents want to hear came that night.
You’ve heard plenty these past few weeks about the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The events of that day played a huge role in putting U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they remain today never out of harm’s way.
Think of them.
“I get so wound up in my brother, I forget about the others,” Kathryn Wentz apologized Wednesday. “… We’re not the only ones who have been through this — or will be through this.”
Ask Bubba Cheeks about her tattoo.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.

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