By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — U.S. Army veteran and Ecorse Firefighter Damon Clayton, 28, died Feb. 2, leaving behind loved ones and memories made by his desire to help others any chance he had.
The son of Councilwoman Lisa Hicks-Clayton, Clayton leaves his father, David Clayton; sisters Devinn Clayton and Marissa Zamesnik; and girlfriend Amy Zuchniewicz. He is the grandson of Linda Hicks, Danny Clayton, Faye Clayton and the late James Robert Hicks.
Visitation will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. Feb. 9 at John N. Santeiu & Son Funeral Home, 1139 Inkster Road, Garden City, with the funeral service at 6 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials to Michigan Warriors Hockey.
Damon joined the Michigan Warriors hockey program, a nonprofit organization created for charitable and recreational activities, namely, providing an educational and developmental hockey program for disabled veterans and to participate in volunteer community services, according to the Michigan Warriors’ Facebook page.
Hicks-Clayton said she got a knock on her door in the early hours of Feb. 3 by police with the news which has devastated her family.
“My sadness — I’ve never felt anything like this in my life and I would never want anyone to feel what I feeling right now,” she said It’s overwhelming.”
Damon was a firefighter with the Ecorse Fire Department at the time of his death after he joined two-and-a-half years ago, Hicks-Clayton said. He became certified after returning from serving in the army and lived with his mother until recently when he moved to Brighton.
He earned his GED in 2010 which allowed him to petition and enlist in the U.S. Army at the age of 17 in the 82nd Airborn Division at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C.
Clayton served in Afghanistan from June through September 2012 where he lost a fellow comrade man close to him in August the same year.
“When Damon returned from serving he told me, ‘I’m damaged mom,’” Hicks-Clayton said. “We need and can do a better job of taking care of veterans. He tried hard to overcome what he went through while serving.”
From a young age Clayton always knew he wanted to serve his country, Hicks-Clayton said, especially after seeing the Twin Towers fall on 9/11 while in middle school.
Clayton grew up in a military family lifestyle with a father who has over 30 years and counting of service in the U.S. Army. He was born at the Fort Ord hospital in Monterey Bay, Calif., and spent two years living with father in Wisconsin during high school.
Hicks-Clayton described her son as a bright, go-getter with a heart of gold who was loyal and cared about his friends and family.
“Damon was very compassionate and always checked in on people even though he struggled with survivor’s guilt,” she said. “He did everything he could to serve his community.”
When asked about a memory of her son she always will remember, Hicks-Clayton said that he loved to tease her about different topics to get her upset and that the pair would joke that if he didn’t aggravate her with his teasing then he didn’t love her.
“He had a great sense of humor,” she said.
Moving forward, Hicks-Clayton said she will become a crusader to help veterans and their families who struggle every day. She made that promise to her son and has already talked to people in Congress to work on making a difference.
“What I’m feeling now I don’t want anyone to feel,” Hicks-Clayton said. “I wish people would take the time to understand and not judge that way we can help each other.”
She added that her son has a story that needed to be told and that he’s not the only one, citing that he lost two fellow military friends in December and on Feb. 1.
Hicks-Clayton has been receiving support, messages and phone calls from the Michigan Warriors, Dearborn Heights community and from all over the state since her son’s passing.
“I’m moved that he had that impact, and our family is forever grateful.”
Some of those kind messages were posted on social media by those who knew Clayton.
“This man was a friend and a brother to me,” Kenneth Isaacson wrote Feb. 4 on Facebook. “We may not have shared DNA, but we shared a common desire to protect. His name was Damon Clayton. He was a US Army paratrooper in Afghanistan, and a Firefighter/EMT for Ecorse Fire. I was hit hard by the loss of a fellow first responder. When we lost Damon, we lost a very special blessing from God. This special soul spent his life protecting us!
“I finish EMT is 3 weeks,” the post continued. “I would like to finish in honor of him. Damon was a factor in my choice to pursue public safety. I want him to always be remembered. Please support the family, because he supported us.”
Ron Lethon wrote, “It’s with a heavy heart that I write this. Lost another brother last night. R.I.P Damon Clayton. I usually do not post about this stuff do to the personal nature of it, but I can not keep silent anymore. I am always here for anyone that needs to talk I will not judge and always listen.”
Also on Feb. 3, Alex Cate posted a message saying Clayton was one of the most incredible people and friends he’d had in his 23 years and added that he was a hero to his community, friends, family and country.
“I am absolutely in nothing but heartbreak hearing of your passing,” Cate said. “I may never know another man with the character and charisma you held. All the good times, lessons, and laughter we shared over the last few years have been a blessing. Now it seems that it’s your time to fly high. Love you forever brother. God speed. Rest easy.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])