(T-G Photo by Kay Rose)
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Rain stopped and clouds cleared at the hour of honor here Friday for a Bedford County man whose combat death was memorialized with the dedication of a bronze bust in his likeness and the presentation of his Silver Star to a still-grieving father.
Nearly speechless, Randy McClenney thanked the Marines who fought alongside his son, Pfc. Daniel B. McClenney. Those included Lance Cpl. Brian Molby, 22, who is leaving the Corps because of wounds suffered in the crossfire from two positions of an ambush. McClenney died fighting alongside Molby.
"He was a helluva Marine," Molby, of Troy, Mich., said. "Willing to learn, always did what he was told.
"I was a machine gunner. He was my ... A Gunner."
Lt. Col. Julian Alford, commanding officer of McClenney's battalion, presented the Silver Star to Randy McClenney of the Flat Creek Community, a factory machinist in Shelbyville.
"A lot of people prayed for good weather," Sam Patterson, regional director of Statues of Servicemen (SOS), the group which provided the bust, said of the late morning ceremony inside Bedford County Courthouse. The ceremony had been scheduled to be held outside.
A 21-gun salute was fired to the northeast from the circuit courtroom's veranda as rays of sunshine broke through grey clouds passing for a warm afternoon.
"We would have rather had this outside, but we must monitor the weather," County Mayor Jimmy Woodson told the standing-room only audience.
The Rev. Tom Russell told them, "We know it's difficult for the family at this time, but we are so thankful for those who came today."
Russell was Daniel McClenney's Sunday school teacher.
"Martin Luther King Jr. once said, 'The true measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands in times of conflict and controversey,'" Patterson told nearly 200 people. "Pfc. McClenney gave his life fighting for our freedom ... He went down fighting."
McClenney's last battle was described in a citation by Gordon R. England, secretary of the Navy, who served as the first deputy secretary of Homeland Security. Lt. Col. Alford read the citation.
"On 24 June 2004, McClenney's fireteam sought to locate and disarm enemy militia in the Konar Province of Afganistan. Enemy fire from two ambush positions intended to support a larger attack on other Marines and Coalition forces at Firebase Naray.
"The enemy would have dealt a detrimental blow ... had Pfc. McClenney's fire team not reacted in a quick and decisive manner," the Navy secretary wrote.
"McClenney continued to engage the enemy despite being wounded on the initial burst of enemy fire," England said. "After his team leader was killed, he took over radio communications and gave constant situation reports to the firebase and quick reaction force for 30 minutes.
"McClenney aggressively exchanged fire with the enemy while simultaneously requesting medical evacuation for his entire team," England said. "With a severe wound to his abdomen and a broken arm ... McClenney displayed an indominable fighting spirit as he fought hand-to-hand, until he was mortally wounded."
Patterson, Alford and other Marines staying at the Union Station Hotel in Nashville on Thursday night toasted McClenney, they said, concluding they'd want their children to grow up to be like him.
SOS is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for bronze busts of all military personnel killed during Operation Enduring Freedom.
The SOS Fund provided Bedford County and the McClenney family the first of what's to be more than 1,000 statues of fallen heros. SOS National Director Chris Landry took the bust to the county mayor's office.
"For too long, America has made heros of rock stars, athletes and actors who play heros," Landry said in a now often-repeated declaration that those who sacrifice their lives for freedom are the true heroes.
McClenney was one of 900 Marines under Alford's command, which started in March. He died at age 19 about three months later.
Sgt. Pete Lindenthal, 29, born the son of a Marine in Quantico, Va., was deployed immediately after Sept. 11 to Afganistan for a year, and came to know McClenney during his second assignment there.
"Daniel was one of 11 Marines in my squad," Lindenthal said. "There are supposed to be 13 but sometimes you don't get what you want for your deployment."
Their last patrol together was at Afganistan's border with Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden "is probably in Pakistan because we can't go there because of political issues," Lindenthal said.
"The government is tracking him (bin Laden)," Alford said. "I would imagine he's in western Pakistan, but I have no idea...
"In eastern Afganistan, we have driven the Taliban out," the lieutenant colonel said. "Afganistan is a win for America."
Lindenthal said McClenney and a few fellow Marines were in the mountains of Iraq going to retrieve night vision goggles when they were ambushed in the late afternoon.
"Usually every Marine has a set of NVGs with him," Lindenthal said. "They weigh a couple of pounds and attach to the Marine's helmet."
Had the fire fight continued much longer, the goggles would have been needed, he said.
Lindenthal is third from right in the bottom left photo on page 1B. Molby, who was with McClenney when he died, is second from right in that photo.
A few years ago, older Americans said "Daniel's generation ... was destined for failure," the fallen Marine's commander said Friday, noting broken homes, lack of supervision and a fear that a nation would crumble when they're adults.
"We were wrong," Alford said. "These men are now in austere lands like Afganistan and Iraq making their families proud."
Most of his men watched as civilians when World Trade towers fell, the Pentagon was attacked and a jetliner plunged into a Pennsylvania field.
"For them it was a call to arms," he said. "They knew that by their hands this enemy would suffer the same fate."
Now, Alford expects his Marines to also be diplomats, statesmen and humanitarians.
"On any given day, they would be giving medical aid to Afgani children, or meeting with village elders to try to build schools or address security concerns, and in the blink of an eye, they would be in combat," Alford said. "And as soon as the gunfight was over and the bad guys were taken care of, they'd go back to meeting with elders and caring for children.
"They are an amazing group of men and I am proud to serve with them and you should be proud that they are your children."
McClenney's "life was lived as an example of decency and his death a costly price for freedom," Alford said.
Alford's battalion leaves for Iraq late this summer.