Thursday, April 26, 2007

Marlon B. Harper dies of 'wounds from contact with enemy forces using a rocket propelled grenade and small arms fire during combat operations'

Three young children lost a father.

A wife lost a husband.

And the United States has lost another hero.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Marlon B. Harper, 34, was killed Saturday in Baghdad, Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Harper, whose young children and wife moved to Pensacola while he fought in Iraq, was killed during a patrol after engaging combatants who were using small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

Staff Sgt. Harper of Baltimore was on his third tour of Iraq.

"He was a soldier who loved his job," said his wife, Stacy Harper, 33. "He didn't like to be away from his family, but he was a patriotic person. He definitely loved his soldiers."

Besides his wife, Harper leaves behind three children -- twin 10-year-old daughters, Jennifer and Jessica, and a 12-year-old son, Dominic.

He also leaves behind a grateful nation.

At Blue Angels Elementary School, where the Harpers' daughters are in the fourth grade, students are learning lessons in sacrifice. Dominic is a sixth-grade student at Jim Bailey Middle School.

"We've been talking about what a hero he was," said Karen Montgomery, Blue Angels Elementary assistant principal. "We're talking to the students about how brave he was to defend our freedom so they can come to school every day."

All three of the children are still attending school this week.

"They're soldiers like their dad," Stacy Harper said. "They wanted to go and be with their friends. And I didn't want them to be alone. I want their routine to be as normal as possible."

Both schools are providing counseling for the children, she said.

Staff Sgt. Harper was serving with the 1st Calvary Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

He joined the military in January 1993 as an armor crew member.

Staff Sgt. Harper had been in Iraq since October 2006. He was due to return stateside in January, Stacy Harper said.

She and the couple's children moved to Pensacola last summer to stay with Stacy Harper's mother, Pat Babbs, who lives near Myrtle Grove in western Escambia County.

Neighbors have been in contact with Stacy Harper and her children and said they want to do whatever they can to help the family as they mourn Staff Sgt. Harper.

"Everyone in the family is just as sweet as could be," said Barbara Churchman, who lives across the street from Pat Babbs' home. "The kids are always great and so nice. If some of our mail was in their mailbox, they'd come across to bring it. Or they'd come by selling tickets for school."

Churchman, who works at Pensacola Naval Hospital, said Staff Sgt. Harper's death has hit her hard.

"I have co-workers who are deployed or who are deploying," she said. "And it's just heart-breaking to see them go. But now, well, it's personal. To know he's not coming home, to know those children's daddy isn't coming home, it's personal."

Stacy Harper said she talked to her husband on the phone about four days before he died.

"He was in good spirits," she said. "We always talked about Iraq as little as possible. He just wanted to know how the kids were doing. He didn't like to focus on Iraq because he didn't like to worry me."

Stacy Harper said plans are still being made for a memorial service, but said she expects that her husband will be buried in Pensacola, though not at Barrancas National Cemetery.

She said she wants him to be buried here, because Pensacola is now the family's home.

"We're going to stay here now," she said. "This is going to be our home."

From the Pensacola News Journal