When Michelle Clayburn answered a knock on her door Monday night, she was greeted by three military men in full uniform. As they stood on the porch of her Gloversville home, one informed her that Staff Sgt. Emily Elizabeth Clayburn, her youngest daughter, was dead.
She had been stationed with the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., for several years after serving two tours of duty in Iraq. Her mother said she worked in shipping and receiving at the base, “loading and unloading everything from household items to tanks.”
As the military goes, it was a safe job, but Air Force officials said she was killed in an industrial accident around 4:30 p.m. Monday.
Michelle Clayburn held back tears Thursday as she packed for an early morning flight to Tampa for a memorial service.
“She had so many friends all over the country, all over the world,” she said. “She was quick to smile, quick to laugh. She was a butterfly.”
Emily Clayburn spent her early years in Rochester but moved with her mother to Palatine Bridge and attended Canajoharie High School. She enjoyed swimming competitively, but for a year after graduation didn’t really know what to do with her life. In 2002, Michelle said, the military gave her that direction.
“She was a citizen of the world,” she said, “She grew up here, but the military took her to Ireland and Scotland, all over Europe and South Korea, not to mention Iraq. She came back with an appreciation for what we had here and the desire to protect it.”
At the age of 29, she had served her country for a decade and according to her mother would have continued for a full career.
Emily was known for her love of children, drawing out the best in her niece and nephew Katie and Jack here in the States and putting Iraqi orphans at ease during wartime.
“[Jack and Katie] called her Aunt Weeny,” she said, “because she was so goofy. She’d do anything to make kids laugh. They came to her like the Pied Piper.”
Emily’s father, Robert, who lives in Rochester, and sister Barbara and her family, also will be flying to Tampa for today’s memorial service. On Saturday afternoon they’ll bring Emily’s remains back to Our Lady of Hope in Fort Plain under military escort.
A wake will be held at the church from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Staff Sgt. Emily Elizabeth Clayburn will be given a military burial with full honors at Evergreen Cemetery in Fonda Monday at 11 a.m.
“I know she’s now at peace, and whole and beautiful,” her mother said.
Sixth Air Mobility Wing commander Col. Scott DeThomas said Clayburn will be missed by everyone in the wing and all who had the chance to serve with her.
The accident is still under investigation.