Family, community gather to say goodbye to Army Sgt. Jason McClary
Photographs of Army Sgt. Jason McClary — depicting him as a child, adult and with his family — filled the dimly lit interior of Cornerstone Ministries on Tuesday.
The Murrysville church also was filled with more than 100 people there to attend McClary’s funeral service, including military comrades from Fort Carson in Colorado and members of the Patriot Guard Riders who stood watch at the entrance holding American flags along with family, friends and neighbors.
Jeffrey Ritter’s voice understandably faltered as he prepared to say goodbye to his brother.
“It’s overwhelming how people have come together,” Ritter said prior to the service. “Not just for my brother but for our whole family.”
McClary, 24, died Dec. 2 at a base in Germany from injuries he suffered five days earlier when an improvised explosive device detonated in Afghanistan. He was based out of Fort Carson, Colo., where he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. He served as a gunner for an up-armored vehicle.
McClary was the second local soldier to be killed by the Nov. 27 roadside bomb in Ghazni province, an area where the Taliban is resurgent. A memorial service for Air Force Staff Sgt. Dylan Elchin, 25, of Hookstown, Beaver County, was held earlier this month.
Ritter said his brother knew the danger he would face day in, day out.
“Before he was deployed, they would almost say their goodbyes,” Ritter said. “They knew (death) was possible, even though none of us could probably admit to ourselves that it was possible.”
Ken Thompson, a Patriot Guard Rider from Hickory, said attending military funerals never gets any easier as he unfurled an American flag from the back of his motorcycle and headed toward the church.
“Honoring the veterans is what’s important,” said Thompson, who has been with the Patriot Guard Riders for eight years and attended about 30 funerals.
McClary’s coffin was draped in an American flag and flanked by Christmas trees, juxtaposing the joy of the holiday season with the immense sadness inside the church and outside in the community.
Scott Bowman of Murrysville chose to attend McClary’s funeral “to honor him and support his family.”
“It’s a tragedy and a tremendous sacrifice he made,” Bowman said.
During his military career, McClary earned the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, Army Commendation Medal with Valor Device, Army Commendation Medal with Service Device, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal with Combat Service, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with Combat Service, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Air Assault Badge.
“In the short amount of time he was in the Army, he achieved everything he set out to achieve,” Ritter said. “He’s a hero.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.