War hits home
Lauderdale County buries soldier
PALLBEARERS Staff Sgt. L.S. Ward, left, Lt. Cpl. Lewis Blackman, Staff Sgt. Norman Square, Sgt. Pedro Catchins and Cpl. Kevin Nichols carry the casket of fellow U.S. Marine Chris Mabry into the First Baptist Church of Meridian on Thursday. PHOTO BY KYLE CARTER / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
April 16, 2004
A group of young men stood arm-in-arm Thursday inside a small church cemetery, tucked in the quaint countryside of hilly, southwest Lauderdale County, and honored their friend, Chris Mabry.
Among the friends were many of Mabry's former football teammates at Clarkdale Attendance Center, some of whom are less than a year removed from pep rallies and proms.
They stood near Mabry's freshly-dug grave and performed what once was a pregame ritual. They huddled, prayed, joined hands, lifted their unified grip to the sky and then shouted, "One, two, three Bulldogs!"
Clarkdale, a small public school named for its location on the Clarke and Lauderdale County line, is not known for football. In fact, just a few years ago the school held one of the state's longest losing streaks.
Mabry's 2002 team, however, was the school's first to win a district championship.
Last week, Pfc. Chris Mabry, 19, was one of 12 Marines killed in the Sunni Muslim town of Ramadi, Iraq.
Mabry was the first Lauderdale County resident and one of at least 11 Mississippians to die in the war in Iraq. In all, more than 440 U.S. troops have been killed in action since the invasion last year to oust Saddam Hussein.
Mabry and other Marines began a major operation early last week to crack down on guerrillas in Ramadi and Falluja cities in Iraq's Sunni heartland where most of the insurgency against occupying troops has been.
On Thursday, one week later, hundreds of family, friends, teachers, principals, military officers and others gathered at First Baptist Church of Meridian for funeral services to remember Mabry.
They buried him at Rock Hill Church Cemetery in Meehan.
The Rev. Roy Dabbs, who was Mabry's pastor for five years at Mt. Olive Baptist Church, said Mabry's death is a painful reminder of the cost of freedom.
Mabry's mother, Nancy Carter, was overcome with emotion after learning about her son's death. On Thursday, she stood near his grave and gripped a folded American flag presented to her by U.S. Marines.
The U.S. Marines provided a full military burial, including a 21-gun salute and a trumpet playing "Taps," and presented Mabry's mother, father and grandmother with American flags.
As the grave-side service ended, Quinten Walker, a former football teammate and friend of Mabry's, broke from his honorary pallbearer position and consoled a family member who cried.
Later, Mabry's grandmother and legal guardian, Frances Mabry, cried as she talked about how she received a letter from her grandson on Wednesday one week after he was killed.
In the March 17 letter, Mabry told his grandmother that "time seems to run together here. It's sandy, dirty and getting real ugly here. I keep hoping when I'm asleep that I'll wake up at home."
In the letter, Frances said her grandson also wrote about his Bible."Church was good today," Mabry wrote, "but man I wish I had my Bible here."
That, Culpepper said, describes the kind of person Mabry was. Culpepper said Mabry, a strong-willed defensive end on the football team, was a person who "never gave up."
And, Culpepper said, Mabry was ready to go to war.
Culpepper remembers talking to Mabry about the war before he left. Becoming a Marine was something Mabry always wanted to accomplish because he wanted to be the best, Culpepper said.
Culpepper said he, and others, will never forget Mabry's heart.