Poot would have liked his dad’s new truck.
The Ford F-150 is hunter green, James McDiffett Jr.’s favorite color. The driver and passenger seats in the cab are upholstered in camouflage, which James also liked.
And covering the center seat and console is the American flag that James raised, lowered and saluted on holidays in the yard of his Grays Hill home.
James died in 2014 at age 6 after an accident near his home. On Dec. 30, James McDiffett Sr. rounded the corner in the truck to visit his son’s grave behind Anderson Funeral Home and was stopped cold: The memento he spent hours building was gone.
The bench was like new, painted red, white and blue. The crest of the U.S. Army 14th Infantry Regiment was embedded in the seat back.
The father believes it was stolen from his son’s graveside in December. He sat on the bench once every week or two, talking to James.
“It’s just unbelievable somebody would stoop so low to do something like that,” McDiffett said Tuesday.
It was the father who found the 6-year-old’s body. James had been playing with friends at a nearby home, and his dad went looking after James hadn’t checked in.
The friends had dispersed, so the father kept looking. He found his son near another home nearby.
James had apparently managed to jostle loose the door of a landscaping trailer. The cables on the door were broken, James’ father said, and the door crushed the boy.
That’s how James’ father found him.
McDiffett already had the bench and knew what he wanted to do. He had salvaged the old piece with faded wood and metal eagles for free.
He spent hundreds of dollars in material and sweat selecting new wood at Lowe’s, cutting it to size, sanding and painting the new slats. He refinished the cast iron, replaced stainless steel hardware and secured the emblem.
McDiffett served in the U.S. Army from 1989 until 1992 at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, he said. He once walked in on James watching television, and his son had turned to him and said he wanted to be an Army Ranger.
James had been recognized as an honorary member of the 14th Infantry Regiment, a distinction his father likened to James having hundreds of brothers.
“They didn’t just take (the bench) from me, they took it from all the men I served with,” McDiffett said.
About 700 people are buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery off Robert Smalls Parkway, said Carla Anderson Smith, manager of the cemetery and Anderson Funeral Home.
The business had problems in past years with kids partying and tearing up an unused area of the property with vehicles – but never something like the stolen bench, Smith said.
No trespassing signs went up where the teens had vandalized and littered the vacant lawn. The same can’t be done at the graves where family and loved ones visit at all hours throughout the week.
“If I catch them out there, I am going to prosecute them,” Smith said. “That is sacred ground.”
Plastic Army figurines are scattered with their plastic weapons at the base of James’ headstone. “And a child shall lead them” is engraved in the stone.
The marker is flanked by a U.S. flag and Gamecocks flag.
James also loved Gamecocks football. A picture his father cherishes shows the boy holding up five fingers after South Carolina defeated rival Clemson for a fifth consecutive time in 2013.
He enjoyed the plants in his yard. A picture taken the morning James died shows him admiring the gladiolus flowers.
James went by Poot. That’s the noise he emitted when McDiffett first held his baby boy.
James was born a month early when he arrived in November 2007 and had to be rushed to Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. He stayed until his lungs were powerful enough to breathe on his own.
His father drove back and forth to visit his son in the NICU.
McDiffett recalled the trying weeks as he stood in the 35-degree weather near James’ headstone Tuesday. He traced the bare spot in the grass where the bench had hovered.
He could build another bench, or find another generic metal bench like the ones that can be found elsewhere in the cemetery.
It wouldn’t be the same.
“The person who did it – nobody saw him do it – be brave enough just to bring it back,” McDiffett said. “Or at least have the decency to put it somewhere it will be seen and somebody else can get hold of it and bring it back.”