Thursday, May 24, 2007

Nicholas Hartge laid to rest

KENDALLVILLE – They gathered outside East Noble High School more than 30 minutes early.

Barely a whisper was heard as family members, high school friends and community leaders stood in the blistering sun to watch – some using cameras or video recorders – a flag-draped casket being carried across the parking lot.

Army soldiers, their shoes pounding the concrete in unison, carried their fallen comrade through a sea of American flags held by about 60 members of a motorcycle enthusiast group, as local police and fire officials stood at attention nearby.

It was a dignified but somber start Wednesday afternoon to the funeral for Army Spc. Nick Hartge, a 2005 East Noble graduate.

More than 300 people attended the 50-minute service for Hartge 20, of Rome City who was killed last week near Adhamiya, Iraq, when the vehicle he was riding in hit an improvised explosive device, his family said.

He was a member of the 3rd Platoon C Company, 1-26th Infantry, Task Force Blue Spader, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based in Sweinfurt, Germany.

Hartge was promoted from private first class about a month before he died, but he hadn’t told his parents, stepfather Dave Abbott said Wednesday.

At the service, mourners sniffled and wiped away tears as Hartge’s father, Scott, read an e-mail the family received from his son’s platoon sergeant in Iraq.

Saying the young soldier had a “Midwestern innocence,” and the drive to practice new tasks until he mastered them, the e-mail from Master Sgt. Kevin Floyd told of the loss his comrades in Iraq feel. Hartge had been in Iraq since August.

“His death comes as a blow to us all, pun unintended, I’m sure,” Scott Hartge said, reading from the e-mail. “He was bright, dedicated and determined, but more than that he could make everyone laugh, that’s for sure.”

The four other soldiers on patrol with Hartge during the explosion suffered burns on as much as 70 percent of their bodies, the family said. Hartge’s comrades are back in the United States now for treatment.

Hartge’s unit patrolled the streets of Adhamiya, near Baghdad, every day and would follow tips about insurgent movements, raiding homes for weapons, Abbott said. Hartge worked with Iraqi police officers during these patrols, Abbott said, and saw grisly scenes in this place Hartge described for family members as a slum 100 times worse than the worst area of any large city.

Though his high school friends tried, no one could convince Hartge not to join the military, said friend Eric Searles, 20, who graduated with Hartge.

Searles wasn’t at the funeral – he’s attending school in Seattle – but he realizes he only teased Hartge about his choice because he was scared, he said during a phone interview.

“I didn’t want to discourage him from joining the Army, I just wanted to tell him he was more of a man than I was to go over there,” he said. “But it came across like, ‘Nick, you’re going to get shot, don’t go.’ ”

At East Noble, the 5-foot-8, 155-pound future soldier played trumpet in the marching band, switching to the bass drum his junior year.

That drum and his marching band uniform were in front of his casket Wednesday at the school. Sitting in the back of the gymnasium, the school’s band played during the service.

Local first responders and Ohio State Highway Patrol cars – Hartge’s father is an Ohio State trooper – led the 107-car procession from the school to Lake View Cemetery a few miles away in Kendallville. Employees at businesses along the procession stood outside as the cars passed, some waving American flags.

At the cemetery, mourners sobbed as Army soldiers folded the flag on Hartge’s casket, giving it to his mother, Lori. During the song “Amazing Grace,” played by bagpipers, Scott Hartge got up from his seat in front of his son’s casket to embrace his daughter, Elise, 21, who was standing behind him.

The two hugged tightly, crying, through the song. After the 20-minute graveside service, family members placed single red roses on Hartge’s casket, many sobbing as they walked across the grass to the waiting funeral home cars.

For friend Peter Searles, Eric’s brother, Hartge’s death has done something inside him. The 18-year-old, who also befriended Hartge in band, will graduate from East Noble this year.

“It’s like that little piece of you that you’re never going to see again. It’s like something’s gone,” he said.

From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Related Link:
Nicholas S. Hartge dies 'of wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using grenades and an improvised explosive device'