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By Mary Fortune
RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Clutching the folded flag that had covered their son's casket Sunday, Darrell and Kathy Chambers said a wrenching final farewell to their oldest child, Lance Cpl. William Craig Chambers.
"Thank you for taking care of us," Mr. Chambers said, sobbing as he knelt and wrapped his arms around his son's coffin at Anderson Memorial Gardens in Ringgold. "Rest easy now."
Staff Photo by Dan Henry
Kathy and Darrell Chambers sob after receiving the flag that covered the casket of their late son Lance Cpl. William Craig Chambers at Anderson Memorial Gardens in Ringgold, Ga., Sunday July 8, 2007. Lance Cpl. William Craig Chambers, 20, of Ringgold, Ga., died July 1 in Iraq after his patrol boat capsized on the Euphrates River.
The 20-year-old Marine died July 1 after his patrol boat capsized in the Euphrates River in Iraq.
On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of mourners packed the Temple of Praise on Mack Smith Road in Rossville for his funeral service. The cavernous church with floor and balcony seating holds about 800 people and was filled to capacity, said Tim Ashley, the pastor.
Lance Cpl. Chambers, a 2005 graduate of Ringgold High School, left for Iraq on a Monday in March, and spent the day before his deployment in the church, Mr. Ashley said.
"The whole congregation prayed with him," Mr. Ashley said. "He was a precious young man."
Wearing black ribbons pinned to their shirts, 11 members of Ringgold High School's Junior ROTC program stood at attention in two lines outside the door to the church sanctuary. A roaring procession led by Patriot Guard Riders on their motorcycles and a stream of police and emergency vehicles shepherded the hearse to the doors of the Temple of Praise.
A Marine honor guard carried the casket, swathed in the Stars and Stripes, through the rows of JROTC students into the sanctuary.
During the service, Mr. Ashley read from Lance Cpl. Chambers' final letter home. "I'm back on the front lines again, which is where I want to be," the Marine had written. "I hope to be a team leader when I get back. It's a big responsibility, but I know I can do it. I know how important my job is."
Jan Johnson, of Lyerly, Ga., presented Lance Cpl. Chambers' family with a Gold Star banner, symbolizing that they have lost a loved one serving in the military.
"As a Gold Star Mother myself, I personally know what you're going through at this very moment," Ms. Johnson said. "I received my banner three years ago when I lost my youngest son, Justin, in Iraq. It's a long road, and it's a hard road to travel."
Maj. James Creamer has headed the JROTC program at Ringgold High School for nine years. Lance Cpl. Chambers, who participated in the program for four years, was a helpful, funny and engaging student, Maj. Creamer said.
The fallen Marine's sister, Allison Chambers, called July 2 to let him know her brother had died, Maj. Creamer said.
"I was driving to Dalton, and I just had to pull over on the side of the road and have a good cry," he said.
Maj. Creamer said he spends many hours each week with his JROTC students, and losing one is like losing a family member. Lance Cpl. Chambers isn't the first of his students to die in Iraq, he said. A Marine killed in January 2006, 24-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Scott, was also in the JROTC program at Ringgold, Maj. Creamer said.
Ringgold JROTC member William Fitzgerald, 17, said Lance Cpl. Chambers was his honor guard commander and a good friend and leader. He plans to join either the Army or the Marines, Mr. Fitzgerald said.
"This makes me want to do it even more -- for him," he said.
At the cemetery, Ms. Johnson held an American flag along with a group of Patriot Guard Riders -- volunteers who act as escorts and support at military funerals. The death of her son, 22-year-old Spc. Justin W. Johnson, forever changed her life, Ms. Johnson said.
"This is the new norm," she said. "Our lives will never be the same."
The hardest time for the family is ahead, she said, after their son is buried and everyone else moves on.
"A week after the burial, everyone goes away, and that's when it really hits the family," she said. "I just ask that the community continue to reach out to this family."
A phalanx of motorcyclists, police and emergency vehicles escorted the family to the cemetery.
Linda Shadwick stood under a shade tree, waiting for the funeral procession with her grandsons, Cameron Sutherland, 9, and Clayton Sutherland, 6, who wore white shirts and ties and held American flags. They don't know the Chambers family well, she said, but she wanted her grandsons to see the funeral for the fallen Marine.
"We are teaching them patriotism, and that somebody that goes and serves the country deserves respect," she said. "They love the military, they love the flag, and I want to keep that instilled in them."
Jeff "JayDub" Goodiel, Georgia Ride Captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, said he has talked to members of the Chambers family several times during the week. Though he has ridden with nearly 40 funerals, it never gets easier, he said.
"Rarely before I do a mission do I sleep at night," he said.
Members of the Ringgold JROTC program stood at attention at the grave site, alongside the Marines who came to pay final respects to their fallen comrade. As Lance Cpl. Chambers' parents wept over their son's casket, several of the students joined hands.
E-mail Mary Fortune at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Lance Cpl. William Craig Chambers, 20, of Ringgold, Ga., killed July 1, 2007, when his boat capsized in the Euphrates River.
* Pfc. Travis Haslip, 20, of Ooltewah, was killed May 19, 2007.
* Sgt. John Michael Sullivan, 22, of Hixson, was killed in December 2006.
* Lance Cpl. Kristopher Cody Warren, 19, of Calhoun, Ga., was killed in November 2006.
* Sgt. David Weir, 23, of Cleveland, Tenn., was killed in September 2006.
* Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Jagger, 43, formerly of Rossville, was killed in August 2006.
* Lance Cpl. Joshua Scott, 24, of Ringgold, Ga., was killed in January 2006.
* Sgt. James D. Stewart, 29, formerly of Chattanooga, was killed in June 2005.
* Pfc. James W. Price, 22, of Cleveland, Tenn., was killed in September 2004.
* Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez, 22, of Dalton, Ga., was killed in June 2004.
* Sgt. Marshall Edgerton, 27, of Rocky Face, Ga., was killed in December 2003.
Source: Newspaper archives