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A story of love, role modes, family and a Purple Heart

Army Spc. Brett Claycamp and Catherine Owens

By Jim Fair, Editor
Published on Friday, August 30, 2013

All is right in the world on this swing at Greer City Park where Army Spc. Brett Claycamp, 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, 15th Regiment, and his fiance Catherine Owens have vowed their devotion to each other.

Julie McCombs

All is right in the world on this swing at Greer City Park where Army Spc. Brett Claycamp, 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, 15th Regiment, and his fiance Catherine Owens have vowed their devotion to each other.



Nestled between the crepe myrtles and across the soft melodic waters of the fountain at Greer City Park is a swing that symbolizes love and faith between a soldier and his fiancé.



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Catherine wears Wounded Warriors bracelets to keep the pulse of Brett with her at all times.

Julie McCombs

Catherine wears Wounded Warriors bracelets to keep the pulse of Brett with her at all times.



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Department of Defense

"He has done more for me, you, my family, kids and Greer. When I stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance I think of him."

Will Young, Head Football Coach Greer High School on Army Spc. Brett Claycamp, 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, 15th Regiment.



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Army Spc. Brett Claycamp was awarded the Purple Heart while recovering from severe wounds from a rocket attack. 

Courtesy of Army Spc. Brett Claycamp

Army Spc. Brett Claycamp was awarded the Purple Heart while recovering from severe wounds from a rocket attack. 



Army Spc. Brett Claycamp asked Catherine Owens to the Greer High School prom on that swing. He proposed to her last Dec. 7 at that same spot and their wedding next summer will begin a life together there that only three months ago appeared to be over before it began.

Brett is home on leave from Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He’s a Wounded Warrior, awarded the Purple Heart, recovering from severe wounds suffered in a rocket attack while he was stationed in Afghanistan in May.  

He received a hero’s welcome home Tuesday when his commercial flight landed at 6:42 p.m. at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. Family, friends and church members greeted Brett with waving flags, cheers and tears. “When I saw Brett and heard the applause, I just lost it,” Catherine said. 

The Patriot Guard escorted the family to the Clock on W. Poinsett Street. “I have been going to the Clock since before middle school,” Brett said. “Never have I thought I would walk into the Clock and be applauded.” Catherine burst into tears again.

“I am not the type of person to boast,” Brett said. “Without our spouses and family support we would have a hard time. I couldn’t have gotten through this without (Catherine).”

Brett ordered a Texas club sandwich with onion rings because, “I just wanted to get home and eat some butter and grease,” he said with a laugh.

Reese Hannon, starting sophomore quarterback for Furman University, is a cousin on Catherine’s side of the family and had become friends with Brett. With Furman’s first game days away, Catherine figured Hannon would be focusing on practice and game preparation. Besides, he had an exam in the morning coming up.

“I told Reese, ‘I know you love us’ and this is game week. We will see you Saturday (at Gardner-Webb). Brett had a Furman flag in Afghanistan given to him by Hannon. We’re sitting at the Clock and Reese comes walking in.”

Love bloomed slowly for Brett and Catherine

Catherine and Brett may have been destined to become a couple. They certainly didn’t see it that way in their youth.

“He must have asked me out a million times,” Catherine said with a wide smile while glancing at Brett. “I don’t know how it came to be. We were best friends and were in the same church group. I would see him play basketball by himself. We flirted all the time.

“My friends would always tell me, ‘Catherine, you will end up getting married to him.’  Uh, no I would tell them.’ ”

They both played sports at Greer High School. Brett played football and Catherine was a swimmer.

When Catherine was a senior, “I began to realize that I had a crush on this guy. I went away to Anderson University and during one break I came home with my friends telling me how much Brett had changed.” That’s about the time the friendship turned into a relationship.

They wrote each other every day Brett was going through basic training. The day he graduated they became a couple. It was sealed with a kiss at City Park.

Brett has just under a month of leave. Most of it will be spent with Catherine making wedding plans. “I’m not a picky person. I just know I don’t want a lot of pink and flowers,” Brett said. Ironically, Catherine’s cell phone cover is pink – given to her by Brett.

Meanwhile Catherine is student teaching 6th grade math and will graduate in May.

Life-changing mentors

Brett was “invited” to a middle school boot camp administered by Sgt. Chris Forrester of the Greer Police Department. “I don’t remember what he did to get into the ‘boot camp’,” Forrester said. “Even then he was a good kid.

“I had some tapes of my (Marine) boot camp and I tried to share some things I did that helped me. I knew I wasn’t going to help everybody. I figured if I could help one, keep kids in school and reduce crime, that’s what it was all about.”

Brett said he was more a mischievous person at that age.

“(Sgt. Forrester) changed my life. I talked to him about the police force and got a general idea what being a police officer is all about,” Brett said.

Forrester said he didn’t realize the impact he would make on a middle school student. “I think for me, hearing what Brett said, makes everything I’ve done in the past 12 years worth it.”

Brett ballooned to 315 pounds while in high school and played on the Greer football team coached by Will Young. Brett said Young made him a “man” and helped him to understand teamwork.

“He was a fun kid to coach. He always tried hard, and he was nasty,” Young said, describing Brett’s tenaciousness. “Without teamwork, it’s hard to do your job in football or in the military.”

Brett’s comment about Young took him aback. “I can tell you it definitely makes us feel good. It’s hard to be perfect. The staff, coaches and teachers do the best we can with the kids.”

The influence of two grandfathers

Brett worked at Bloom on Pelham Road when he decided to visit a military recruiter. “I was lost at the time. He told me I was too big. Within nine months I lost 115 pounds. If I had not joined the Army I don’t know what I would have done with my life,” Brett said.

Both of Brett’s grandfathers earned the Purple Heart. “One of them said he didn’t care for the Purple Heart. He enlisted because he wanted to. I heard stories about them serving and was told this is one medal you don’t want to get. Both of them have passed, but my grandmothers have talked to me about their service. I miss being able to talk to them. I finally joined the ranks of my grandfathers, and I felt like I could actually share this moment with them. I thought the world of my grandfathers.”

Brett was determined to serve in hot spots. The chain of command labeled him as undeployable. That is until he went to the commanding officer. “I had gone through the complete chain of command and he recognized that. I told him that I was trained to fight and ready to go.”

Brett was sent to Iraq and became part of a maneuverable 8-person platoon that could be deployed quickly.

“I had a sickening feeling and the worst feeling I ever had,” Catherine said.

Severely injured, he was worried about Catherine

The rocket came over the top of the mortar pit and exploded near Brett sending bomb fragments and shrapnel piercing his body. “After I got hit, I was thrown back a little bit and laid on the ground trying to gather my senses.

Hescos (fortified bags) used to protect us against blasts were 20 feet away. My leg was bleeding so I put a tourniquet on it. I felt around my neck and the opening was pretty big. It was then I realized I was hurt pretty bad.

“I remember looking at a soldier and telling him, “Catherine will be so pissed off.  My arm didn’t work and when I looked around I could see an outline of my body caused by the blast.”

The backpack that had a computer and other gear was credited with possibly saving his life. Brett’s job was as a “hot gun shift. We were standby on any missions.”

Medevacs ferried Brett to a hospital for surgery. “I prayed for about an hour and had the greatest conversation with God I ever had. I talked about Catherine. The Lord himself was with me.”

As he was prepped for surgery Brett said he was “begging doctors to call Catherine and let her know he was OK. I thought ‘Catherine is going to kill me’ and trying to figure out what to say.  Something like, ‘well, something happened and I got blown up.’ ” Brett laughed at the incredulity of that thought at that moment.

Catherine said a person called telling her, “We have Brett with us  . . .  “ and then she dropped the phone after hearing him in the background.

Upon Catherine’s first visit to see Brett she was relieved. “I just had to touch him,” she said.

Brett’s belongings were sent home. On top was a group picture of his platoon and the Furman flag.

‘When I say the Pledge of Allegiance, I think of him’

Brett will be taking courses and attending seminars during his remaining rehabilitation. He is taking online courses, will go to Quantico for counterterrorism and make contacts with the FBI and law enforcement. “I want to bring my experience back to Greer and get involved with anyone who wants to help people. (Tuesday) sealed the deal for me. It was most humbling seeing and meeting people I never met before and saying they were there for me.”

Young is not one to express sentiments. But when it comes to Brett, they flow freely. “He has done more for me, you, my family, kids and Greer. When I stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance I think of him.”

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