FRANKFORT, Ky. –
"As soon as I saw two men in Army greens come in from the kitchen, I lost it. My stomach dropped out. I was praying he was hurt, but we couldn't be so lucky," remembered Ryan Clemons of the day he found out his dad would not be coming home from Iraq.
It was December 2006 when the family learned of the death of Staff Sgt. Thomas Clemons. While serving with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Armor on patrol near Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq, Clemons succumbed to a severe heart attack. Just a month earlier he was home on leave telling the stories of the war.
"They didn't have it easy over there that's when the war was real hot before the newer MRAPs and such," Ryan said. "A lot of bad days dad told me when he was in that fall for leave. He spent a couple weeks stateside and took off again."
"Not long after that I got possibly the worst news a 17-year-old could get that my dad had passed away over there. It was rough, so hard."
Ryan said friends, family and the community were immediately there to comfort the Grayson County, Kentucky, family.
"The community was great, it's was the most people I've ever seen at a funeral. There was literally a parade for his arrival to the funeral home I mean three or four miles of people that had known him; whether it be from coaching their kids' t-ball or basketball team, went to school together or most of whom they had just struck up a casual conversation and he made their life better with a little laughter and kind heartedness."
"But that was the moment I realized just how special he was to the people who knew him."
Ryan also found comfort in the Soldiers that served with his dad and the unit as a whole. As soon as he was of age, Ryan Clemons followed his dad's example and enlisted into the Kentucky National Guard, in the same unit.
"I enlisted to serve my community and my country, my dad was an exceptional man with the biggest heart and I got that gene, hearing his stories of being able to help people in disasters like he did in Hurricane Katrina really peeked my interest," said now-Spc. Ryan Clemons, a combat engineer with the 1123rd Sapper Company, formerly the 2/123rd.
Ryan's dad also spoke of the bonds he made with the Soldiers he trained and served with, such as Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Elmore. Elmore was among Clemons' best friends in uniform. He called Clemons a true professional, a great Soldier who could always be counted on.
"The day he passed, I got the call at nine in the morning," said Elmore who served with Clemons his whole career. "I prepared his paperwork for the battalion, I performed his ramp ceremony in Louisville and folded his flag for the adjutant general to present to his wife."
"That time frame was a test on a man's heart. He was my friend."
"I think of him often and keep his pictures and memory of him strong, but what I really enjoy is seeing his son grow and develop into the man he is," said Elmore, who now serves as the operations NCO for the Leitchfield, Kentucky-based 1123rd.
"Ryan, like his father before has served tirelessly and continues to embody the meaning of the Citizen-Soldier and Kentucky National Guardsman."
Elmore said he knew Ryan wanted to be a Soldier and was anxious to enlist. He started his enlistment at the Military Entrance Processing Station on May 20, his dad's birthday. According to Elmore, Ryan is doing a fine job following in his father's footsteps as a Soldier, recently re-enlisting for three more years. Ryan said he expects to serve many more years in service to his community.
"Seeing another 'Clemons' on a nametape around the armory is a great feeling knowing that there's life in that legacy," said Elmore. "It makes me miss my friend, but also shows me how good of a father Thomas Clemons was."
Ryan said the third Sunday in June is another day of remembrance for him, a day to think of his dad's service to the country. And to rekindle the impressions his dad left on him.
"Father's Day, I think of us playing basketball and him getting me my first clunker of a car, my first pocket knife. Memories of the good dad he was. He cherished every moment he had with my brother and me, as if he knew he'd pass early in life."
"Carrying on a legacy like his is a sturdy challenge. I work my but off to not shame either of my name tapes, Clemons or U.S. Army. I am so proud to call him my dad. I do the best I can everyday to know that he would be proud. It's a hard name to live up to. But I know he's looking down saying that's my