On the day that marked the fifth anniversary of their courtship, Hope Gluff watched as her husband’s casket, swathed in an American flag, arrived home from Iraq.
“I’m hurting,” Mrs. Gluff said Thursday afternoon. “I love and miss my husband.”
Lance Cpl. James Michael Gluff, 20, died Saturday in the Al Anbar province of Iraq when two suicide attackers detonated bombs during a firefight, family members said. Three other Marines, including Soddy-Daisy native Cpl. Daniel O’Keefe, 22, were injured.
“He was shot and took shrapnel in his face,” said Cpl. O’Keefe’s mother, Angie O’Keefe. “He says he’s OK.”
Cpl. O’Keefe is hospitalized in Germany. His wife, Tera O’Keefe, 19, left Chattanooga on Thursday afternoon to see him.
“He wants to go back to Iraq,” said Mrs. O’Keefe, whose husband was injured on the first anniversary of their wedding. “He is so hard-headed.”
On Thursday morning, a Marine Corps honor guard and several Patriot Guard motorcyclists shepherded Lance Cpl. Gluff’s casket from the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport to Love Funeral Home in Dalton, Ga. The Marine from Tunnel Hill, Ga., left a 14-month-old son, Michael Wayne, who is far too young to understand why his family is so distressed, Mrs. Gluff said.
“He doesn’t understand why, what’s going on,” said Mrs. Gluff, 20. “I think that is (a blessing) in a way, but in a way I think it’s not fair because my husband didn’t get to spend more time with his son.”
Lance Cpl. Gluff graduated in 2005 from Northwest Whitfield High School. Shannon Looper, his ninth-grade English teacher, said he rarely spoke in class.
“He was so quiet. ... (But) he made great grades, so you know he was paying attention,” she said. “And if he had something to say, it was very important.”
Ms. Looper said she kept in touch with Lance Cpl. Gluff through the years, and she said joining the Marines transformed the young man. After he finished boot camp, Lance Cpl. Gluff visited Ms. Looper at Northwest in his dress uniform.
Staff Photo by Angela Lewis -- Tera O'Keefe stands at the ticket counter in the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport before leaving for Germany to visit her husband, Cpl. Daniel O'Keefe, who was injured in Iraq.
“He gave me a big hug, which was totally out of character for him,” she said. “He was so confident in who he was.”
Lance Cpl. Gluff was a dedicated Marine who always had wanted to be in the military, his mother, Jorean Betancourt, said Wednesday.
“He was a great person; everybody loved him,” Mrs. Betancourt said. “He was real funny, but when he put his uniform on he turned into a totally different person — all business.”
Both Lance Cpl. Gluff and Cpl. O’Keefe were assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. According to reports from the Stars and Stripes and Marine Times military news Internet sites, the death of Lance Cpl. Gluff was the Marine Corps’ first combat death in Iraq since Oct. 8, 2007.
For the family of Cpl. O’Keefe, relief that he survived is tinged with sadness for the Gluff family. Shelley Warren, Cpl. O’Keefe’s mother-in-law, said her family is dealing with painfully mixed emotions.
“We’re happy that God spared Daniel’s life, but my heart breaks for the Gluff family,” she said.
Lance Cpl. Gluff’s young son always will be a powerful reminder of his father, Mrs. Gluff said.
“He’s not afraid of anything,” she said. “He has his father’s strong will and determination.”
Tunnel Hill resident Karen Witt, an adviser for the Dalton Police Department’s Explorers program for youth, said she knew Lance Cpl. Gluff very well for about five years.
He was a “very sweet” boy who once surprised his then-girlfriend Hope by dedicating the love song “Best I Ever Had” to her at an Explorers dance, Mrs. Witt said. After he joined the Marines in 2005, Mrs. Witt saw Lance Cpl. Gluff when he was on leave.
Once, she said she told him, “We’re going to hog-tie you to keep you here,” she said. “He was like, ‘I won’t get hurt. I promise I’ll come back.’”