Family, community gather to say goodbye to Army Sgt. Jason McClary
Nine motorcycles rumbled Tuesday in the parking lot of Murrysville’s Cornerstone Ministries.
From speakers on one, the lyrics of “God Bless the USA” cut through the chilly December air: “And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me.”
One of those brave men — Army Sgt. Jason Mitchell McClary — lay feet away in a flag-draped coffin while a hearse and procession waited to depart from the church after his memorial ceremony. The 24-year-old Export-area native died Dec. 2 after being injured in Afghanistan five days earlier when a roadside bomb exploded .
“We honor a debt that can never be repaid,” said Pastor Jason Carnley of Keystone Christian Church in Export. “Can you put a price on your freedom?”
More than 100 people gathered at the church where photographs of McClary — depicting him as a child, as an adult and with his family — filled the dimly lit interior. The coffin was flanked by Christmas trees, juxtaposing the joy of the holiday season with the immense sadness inside the church and outside in the community.
Those in attendance included 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.
“Honoring the veterans is what’s important,” said Ken Thompson, a Patriot Guard Rider from Hickory.
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 died at a base in Germany. 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.
“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.”
Sgt. Major Deron Timmerman described McClary as a “true warrior” who often cheered up his fellow soldiers during rough times. Flags are flying at half-staff in Colorado in his honor, Timmerman said.
“No matter where he served, he was very highly regarded as a member of that team,” he said.
Being in the Army was McClary’s dream, according to his family and friends. He regularly wore an Army T-shirt to church, said Carnley, who has known McClary and his family for about 10 years. McClary enlisted in January 2014.
“For him, the Army life was the whole package,” Carnley said.
But even so, he knew the danger, his brother said.
“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.”
McClary was described as a jokester, family man and lover of “anything that ran on gasoline.”
“You could tell that he was one of those guys who just liked to be with people,” Carnley said. “He was known for cutting up and making people laugh. That’s the way he was, that’s who he was.”
McClary was the second local soldier to be killed by the Nov. 27 roadside bomb in the 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.
During his military career, McClary earned numerous awards including the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. In 2016, he was deployed to Iraq for seven months. McClary had been in Afghanistan since April. He is survived by wife, Lillie, and their two sons, Jett, 3, and Jason James, 11 months, in addition to his parents, siblings and other family members.
He was buried at National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil Township, Washington County.
Patrick Varine and Renatta Signorini are Tribune-Review staff writers. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, email@example.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.