Small Fulton County Town Mourns Death of Marine Killed in Iraq

December 15, 2004 -- Posted at: 7:30pm CST

SALEM, AR - "Denial. Disbelief," described Pastor John Hodges, after receiving the phone call that Jason Scot Clairday had died in Fallujah. Hodges had just left the First Baptist Church in Salem.

"Just felt like you were losing one of your own," added Hodges before he started to cry.

Hodges first met Clairday in 1999. He said the shy young man wanted to be fulfilled physically and spiritually. It wasn't long before the church changed him as much as he changed members of the church.

Recalling his religious testimony in front of the congregation, Hodges said the 21 year old church member told everyone, "I always wanted a family, and now I have the biggest family in the world."

Jason Clairday played baseball, ran track and graduated from Salem High School. High school principal Wayne Guiltner was his baseball coach. He said Clairday often stayed after practice. He received the hustler award. He lead by example.

"We consider it an honor to have known him," said Clairday.

The Marine was also a member of a quartet in his church choir. A song they sang echoes in Pastor John Hodges head as he helps Jason Clairday's wife, Sara, family and friends prepare to say goodbye.

"We have it on video. We watched it last night again, my wife and I," explained Hodges. "It's called Shouting Time in Heaven, and all I could think about was what he'd sing about with so much excitement and exuberance he was experiencing now."

Jason Clairday's body was in Dover, Delaware as of Wednesday. Pastor Hodges has been in touch with Sara Clairday and her family. The funeral will be held at the church, but they have yet to decide on what day it will be held.