As a 6-year-old shopping at flea markets with his father, James Michael Gluff always wanted to buy military surplus clothing and gear to wear as he imagined someday serving in the military.
“That’s all he ever talked about was he wanted to be a soldier,” said his father, James H. Gluff, at the funeral Monday for the 20-year-old Marine who died 10 days ago in Iraq. “I can’t explain it, how much I miss him.”
Lance Cpl. Gluff, of Tunnel Hill, Ga., was laid to rest Monday in Chattanooga National Cemetery. As two Marines slowly folded the flag that had covered Lance Cpl. Gluff’s coffin, his son, 14-month-old Michael Wayne Gluff, toddled busily between his mother, his grandparents and other relatives.
Before the funeral service, as his family gathered to talk quietly at Love Funeral Home in Dalton, Ga., the fallen Marine’s son slept in his uncle’s arms in a hallway.
Adam Gregory, who met Lance Cpl. Gluff when they were in fourth grade, said his friend was a “great husband, a proud Marine and a wonderful father.”
In one of the pictures on display in the funeral home, Lance Cpl. Gluff, wearing camouflage pants, held his young son close against his chest as he danced him around the room. Another photo showed Lance Cpl. Gluff’s boyhood bedroom, decorated with pictures and movie posters about Tennessee native and World War I hero Sgt. Alvin York.
Hope Gluff said her husband was a hero who saved the lives of other Marines when he shot a suicide attacker who then detonated a bomb, killing her husband. Several other Marines were injured in the Jan. 19 attack in Al Anbar province.
Mrs. Gluff, 20, and her husband met as high school students in the Dalton Police Department’s Explorers program and married in September 2005.
“I just can’t cry anymore,” Mrs. Gluff said before the funeral service Monday. “You cry so much day and night, you run out of tears.”
Mrs. Gluff’s father, Abel Perez, said his daughter and her husband were extremely close.
“They were just getting started,” he said of his daughter’s young family.
The last time Mr. Gluff, of Jamestown, Tenn., saw his son was in September, just before Lance Cpl. Gluff left for Iraq.
“I hugged him and told him I loved him and that I wanted him back,” Mr. Gluff said. “He always called me ‘old man.’ He said, ‘Old man, I love you and I’ll see you when I get back.’
Staff Photo by Dan Henry-- Hope Perez Gluff is consoled by Gunnery Sgt. Norman Head, left, and Gunnery Sgt. Jason Foster, right, as they leave a memorial service at Chattanooga National Cemetery for 20-year-old Lance Cpl. James Michael Gluff.
“He was such a special, precious person.”
Darrell Chambers, whose 20-year-old son died in Iraq in July, said he knows too well what the Gluff family is experiencing. Mr. Chambers and his wife and daughter went to the visitation Sunday and to the funeral Monday to reach out to them, he said.
“I talked to them at the funeral home and I explained to them that we know what they’re going through,” Mr. Chambers said. “I hope we can be of some kind of comfort and use to them.”
His son, Lance Cpl. Will Chambers, of Ringgold, Ga., died July 1 in Iraq. His family is just starting to emerge from the fog of grief that enveloped them after his death, Mr. Chambers said.
“The state of confusion these people are going through right now, they themselves don’t even understand it right now,” Mr. Chambers said of the Gluff family. “Six months to a year on down the road is when it really starts hitting you.
The two families join several others from North Georgia in losing a beloved son to war. Of the 14 area service members who have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, seven were from North Georgia.
A procession of police cars and motorcycles shepherded the body of Lance Cpl. Gluff from the funeral home in Dalton to the cemetery in Chattanooga as people lined roadsides and overpasses to wave flags and salute the fallen Marine.
Bob Price, a former Marine, came to Chattanooga National Cemetery where his son was serving as a member of the Marine Corps burial detail. Mr. Price’s son returned in April from Iraq as a member of the Chattanooga-based Mike Battery Marine Reserve unit.
“They’re all just great kids,” Mr. Price said. “They’re idealistic.”
He didn’t know Lance Cpl. Gluff, Mr. Price said, but he knows something about what is important to Marines.
“That young man, he could have been anything he wanted to be, but he chose to be what he was because he thought it was an important thing to do,” he said of Lance Cpl. Gluff.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Landrum, a Tennessee Army National Guard soldier who served in Iraq with the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, came to the funeral to show his support for the Marine’s family, he said. Working full-time for the National Guard training soldiers who are preparing to deploy, he sometimes wonders which of them might not come home, Sgt. 1st Class Landrum said.
“When you’re training them you try to give them the best training you can and hope it will help them come back,” said the Decatur, Tenn., resident.
He has seven grandchildren, and hopes this war might end by the time they are old enough to serve.
“I pray they don’t have to do it, but I’m afraid they will,” he said.