The body of a 20-year-old Marine killed in Iraq on Saturday will arrive in Chattanooga today, a moment his mother said will make his family’s loss painfully real.
“The worst part hasn’t happened yet — they’re bringing him into Chattanooga in the morning,” Jorean Betancourt said on Wednesday night. “We’re trying to be strong. We’re still in shock.”
Lance Cpl. James Michael Gluff, of Tunnel Hill, Ga., leaves a wife, Hope Gluff, 20, and a 14-month-old son, Michael Wayne.
“My husband is a hero, a true hero,” wrote Mrs. Gluff on her MySpace page, which she has transformed into a memorial to her husband. “I am so glad my son looks and acts like him. I would not have it any other way.”
Lance Cpl. Gluff’s mother said her son died when the Humvee he was in was hit by an explosive device. Riding in the gunner’s turret of the vehicle, her son was the only Marine killed in the explosion, she said.
“Two or three were hurt bad, but they told me because of his Hummer getting blown up he had saved 25 Marines,” she said. “His brothers (are) what he always called them.”
The family was napping on Saturday evening — Mrs. Betancourt and her 14-month-old grandson in a recliner and Mrs. Gluff on the couch — when Marines rang the doorbell at their home in Tunnel Hill.
Lance Cpl. Gluff, who stood about 6-foot-3 and was known as “Big James,” graduated in 2005 from Northwest Whitfield High School with a dual diploma, which means he completed both college-track and vocational course work, said principal Carolyn Towns.
“That usually means a very well-rounded student,” she said.
He joined the Marines straight out of high school, Mrs. Betancourt said.
“Ever since he was 7 or 8 years old he wanted to be a soldier,” she said. “I begged him not to go, but he said he wanted to go serve his county and protect us.”
Lance CPL. James Michael Gluff
Lance Cpl. Gluff was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. He died in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, west of Baghdad.
Darrell Chambers, a Ringgold, Ga., resident whose 20-year-old son, Lance. Cpl. Will Chambers, died in Iraq in July, said hearing about the death of Lance Cpl. Gluff was “a kick in the teeth.”
“He was the same age as Will,” Mr. Chambers said, weeping. “He was the same rank, he was from the same area, they were both stationed at Camp Lejeune, they were both killed in Al Anbar province.
“It just seems like it’s us all over again.”
Mr. Chambers said he and his wife, Kathy, plan to attend services for Lance Cpl. Gluff.
“I don’t know the family, but I’m going to try to find out all the information we can so we can be there for them,” Mr. Chambers said. “We know what those people are going through and our hearts go out to them.”
Tunnel Hill resident Judy McNelley said she didn’t know Lance Cpl. Gluff, but news of his death induced a “deep-down emotional heart-strain.” Her 23-year-old son, Josh, is a crew chief with Marine Squadron VMM-162.
“They’re just all my kids,” said Mrs. McNelley, who regularly sends care packages to deployed soldiers. “They’re all my kids, and they all mean something to me.” Her son is scheduled to go to Anbar Province in March, she said.
Love Funeral Home in Dalton, Ga., is handling arrangements for Lance. Cpl. Gluff’s services. Visitation is scheduled for Sunday, with a funeral and then burial at Chattanooga National Cemetery planned for Monday, Mrs. Betancourt said.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, 13 area service members have died in the war zone:
Lance Cpl. James Michael Gluff, 20, of Tunnel Hill, Ga., died Jan. 19, 2008. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan M. Lankford, 42, of Scottsboro, Ala., died Sept. 22, 2007
Lance Cpl. Will Chambers, 20, of Ringgold, Ga., died July 1, 2007
Pfc. Travis Haslip, 20, of Ooltewah, died May 19, 2007
Sgt. John Michael Sullivan, 22, of Hixson, died in December 2006
Sgt. David Weir, 23, of Cleveland, Tenn., died in September 2006
Lance Cpl. Kristopher Cody Warren, 19, of Calhoun, Ga., died in November 2006
Lance Cpl. Joshua Scott, 24, of Ringgold, Ga., died in January 2006
Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Jagger, 43, formerly of Rossville, Ga., died in August 2006
Sgt. James D. Stewart, 29, formerly of Chattanooga, died in June 2005
Pfc. James W. Price, 22, of Cleveland, Tenn., died in September 2004
Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez, 22, of Dalton, Ga., died in June 2004
Sgt. Marshall Edgerton, 27, of Rocky Face, Ga., died in December 2003
Source: Times Free Press archives