Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blake Harris laid to rest

PUEBLO - John Harris tried to talk his only child out of following his path into the Army. But from the time Blake Harris was 7 years old, he wanted to hear about his dad's time in the military.

By age 16, Blake had made up his mind.

"I'd explain the realities, but how do you convince a kid not to do something?" said John Harris, who served a year in Vietnam and a total of 11 years in the Army.

At 18, right after graduation from Pueblo's South High School, Blake Harris joined up, following his dad into the 1st Cavalry Division. He served a year in Iraq in 2003. Most of his buddies left the Army, but Harris stayed in and got called up for a second tour.

"He was scared over there this time," John Harris said.

That fear was uncharacteristic for Blake Harris, whose zany sense of humor was as vibrant as his trademark red hair. He was the one who always cheered up his platoon buddies and told them everything would be OK. But, on March 5, the war claimed Blake Harris at age 22.

Harris' platoon sergeant, Master Sgt. Glen Greanya, was so torn up about the loss of one of his men that he could barely speak.

"I'm supposed to teach them how to be soldiers," Greanya said. "But sometimes a soldier teaches you."

Blake Harris was that person.

"He taught me that if you had family and friends, you had all you ever needed. He is my hero," Greanya said.

Harris was patrolling the streets of Baghdad in a Humvee when an improvised explosive device blew up, killing him and two other soldiers - Spc. Ryan D. Russell, 20, of Elm City, N.C., and Pvt. Barry W. Mayo, 21, of Ecru, Miss.

Harris leaves behind the love of his life, his wife, Joanna, and their 2-year-old son, Jonah.

On Friday, hundreds of mourners filled Pueblo's Montgomery Funeral Home to celebrate Harris' life.

He had fallen hard for Joanna during high school. "He said he loved her so much his heart hurt," recalled the Rev. DebraRae, who does not use a last name. She celebrated the service and was Blake's stepmother.

At first, Joanna didn't have romantic feelings for Blake. Then one Valentine's Day he handed her a cassette of a song called Valentine that he had taped over and over again to get his point across: "Will you be my Valentine?" She finally fell for Blake, who was known for his sensitivity and wide-ranging taste in music.

Just before he died, Blake Harris sent an e-mail to his mom, Deborah Harris. He was savoring memories of a 1996 trip they had taken to Yellowstone. He loved the geysers and the wildlife.

"He wished he could go back to those times," DebraRae said. His mother wrote back that they would take another trip to Yellowstone together. Now, Deborah Harris' dreams for the future have collapsed into bittersweet memories of her boy.

She wrote a poem recalling his sweet bedtime hugs and his perpetually muddy shoes. Hugging her during parts of the service was her grandson, Jonah, whose shoes were distinctly un-muddy for his dad's funeral. Jonah was wearing a fancy vest and shiny patent-leather shoes. His chubby cheeks looked just like photos of his dad as a child.

At the end of the service, John Harris took his 1st Cavalry cap and put it on Jonah's head. The boy's mom was weeping as a performer sang Into the Arms of the Angels. So Jonah toddled over to give her a hug. The 1st Cavalry cap sat askew and much too big on his head.

"He doesn't understand all this," his grandfather, John Harris, said after the service. As John Harris prepared to leave his son's body behind for the last time, he placed his hand on Blake's casket and caressed it for a moment. Then, he stood tall and gave his son a final salute.

"It's such a waste," he said moments later. "I'm proud of my son for wanting to serve his country. But none of us has wanted to see our children killed. I'm against the war. I support the troops 100 percent.

"I don't blame the Army for his death. I blame the politicians. I blame Congress for this mess. Either we should get (the military) everything they need and more troops to clean up this mess or get them out of Iraq now."

From the News

Related Link:
Blake Harris dies of injuries from I.E.D.