James Frank Klamm
Sergeant, United States Marine Corps
a contemporary press report:
CLEVELAND OHIO - When he talked about dying - something that easily slipped into his conversations - Jim Klamm always mentioned Arlington National Cemetery. He had spent much of his life in the Marines, he would say, and he was going to spend the afterlife in Arlington.
"More than anything, he wanted to be buried there," said his brother, Gerald.
"He was a gung-ho Marine. He ate it, slept it, dreamed it."
But when Jim Klamm died of a heart attack last week at 61, with neither a savings account nor an insurance policy, his family was left with little time and less money to fulfill his wish.
"I called the Veterans Administration. I called around. There were no death benefits," said his son, Ron, who had never been close to his father but who had come to know him better in recent years. Several funeral directors told Ron that getting a body to Virginia and making arrangements with a funeral director there could cost thousands. And the family hadn't even begun to explore whether Arlington would take Jim Klamm anyway. So Ron, a chemical dependency counselor who has two children and a tight budget, used his own money to hire a Lakewood funeral director for a one-day wake and funeral service Tuesday, followed by a cremation.
"It's all I could afford," he said. He adorned his father's closed casket with a U.S. flag and several of his Vietnam combat medals, including the Purple Heart. Jim's friends at the Brookside Inn, one of the bars he frequented for cold beer and spirited conversation, began raising money "to help get him to Arlington." They sat around drinking Genny and Bud and talked about their pal Jimmy, who had worked as a corrections officer at the Cuyahoga County Jail after his 20- year stint with the Marines. They described Jimmy, who had retired a few years ago from his corrections job, as a heavy, happy drinker with a Stan Laurel smile and a Charlie Chaplain walk.
He lived alone in a rented Cleveland home with his dog and cat. He wrote poetry about deep subjects like the death of children, and he shared it with his friends. It didn't matter to them that he had been married four or five times or that his son had been raised by Jimmy's mother after Jimmy's first ex-wife died, or that he had continued to drink after the doctor told him to stop. He was a great guy, a heck of a cook who always brought food to the bartenders and bought a round of drinks for his buddies before he even set his big frame onto a barstool. He manned the stove or the grill at picnics, helped run a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser for the American Red Cross to aid fire victims and played Santa Claus for children at the bar's annual Christmas party.
"He wouldn't drink a beer while he was Santa. He didn't want the kids to smell the alcohol," said bar owner Danny Phillips. "The man gave so much to this country," Phillips said. "We could at least give him his last wish. We owe him that much."
Patrons of Brookside pitched in a few dollars at a time over the past few days, raising more than $200 that they will give to Ron. Still, the burial at Arlington seemed to them improbable, given that the funeral was over and the body had been cremated. Besides, Arlington was the most prominent cemetery in the Nation. Maybe Klamm could get into some other national cemetery. But Arlington?
However, a reporter's call to Arlington found that Jim Klamm already had it covered. In 1961, Susanne Louise Klamm, his infant daughter, died. She was buried in Arlington.
"He signed an agreement that he would be buried in the same grave as that infant," said Arlington's William Vogelson. "In legal terms, he has to be buried here."
It was that agreement that allowed the civilian infant to be buried at Arlington, Vogelson said. Arlington, unlike other national cemeteries, does not afford space to everyone who has been honorably discharged from the military. It is reserved for those killed in action and those who made the military their career. Jim Klamm, whose 20 years with the Marine Corps ended in 1971, was considered a career military man. In 1967, Klamm had another infant child by a different wife. That child also died days after his birth. Charles Kenneth was buried at Arlington, too. With that knowledge yesterday, Ron Klamm talked to the funeral director, who made arrangements to send his father's remains to Arlington for a proper and honorable burial, probably Tuesday.
"I've tried to just give him what he wanted," Ron Klamm said. "I put this in God's hands, and he's pretty much taken care of everything."
Phillips, the bar owner, became teary-eyed when he heard the news. "That's where he belongs," he said softly.
Susanne Louise Klamm, infant daughter of James
Klamm, died: 1961, and Kenneth Klamm, infant son of James Klamm, died 1967,
are buried with him.