Friday, July 20, 2007

Spanky (James J.) Harrelson dies 'of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device'

Dadeville native Pvt. 1st Class James Jacob Harrelson never told his family specifically why he wanted to go to Iraq, only that he felt it was the right thing to do.

"He was tough and he wanted to serve his country," said Harrelson's father, Dennis Kinney.

Harrelson, 19, who was known to his friends and family by his nickname Spanky, was killed by an IED (roadside bomb) at approximately 4:25 p.m. Tuesday while serving with his unit in Iraq, according to his parents. He was driving a Humvee in a convoy as part of the 1st Infantry Battalion of the U.S. Army when the bomb exploded. Harrelson's parents said they were not told where in Iraq their son was killed.

Harrelson had been in Iraq since May of this year.

"He was very kind-hearted," Kinney said.

Harrelson is the 46th Alabama solider to be killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to He is the second solider from the Lake Martin area to die in Iraq. Marine Lance Cpl. J.T. Sims of Alexander City died April 10, 2004.

Harrelson's family said anyone who met him almost instantly became his friend.

"He didn't have an enemy," said Christopher Baker, Harrelson's older brother.

Dadeville High football coach Richard White said his best memory of his former defensive lineman was his smile.

"I never really saw him when he wasn't smiling," White said. "If things weren't going good he would cheer you up. ... It's really sad. I'm going to miss that smile. He brought a smile with him when he walked. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

Harrelson's mother, Tammy Kinney, who now lives with her husband in Alexander City, said her son joined the Army immediately after he graduated from Dadeville High School in 2006.

"He wanted to continue his education and serve his country," Kinney said.

Toward the end of the 2006 school year, Harrelson talked to White about his future.

"We talked one day. He thought he would join the military. That was probably a good choice at the time since he needed [financial] help to go to college," White said. "Now, looking back, it may not have been a good choice."

Though Kinney supported her son, she was not enthusiastic about his decision to fight in Iraq.

"I did not like it from the start, but it was his decision," she said.

Baker, who had already served a tour in Iraq as a sergeant in the U.S. Marines, was also against Harrelson's decision.

"I tried to tell him what it was like but he told me he could handle it," Baker said. "He just thought it was right."

Kinney said her son did not yet have a specific plan for his future but one thing was for certain, whatever he did in his life, Lake Martin would be a part of it.

"I know he wanted to get a house at StillWaters and live on the lake," she said with a laugh. "He loved fishing."

Other than living on the lake, Harrelson also told his family several times that he hoped to one day be a father.

"He loved babies," Kinney said. "He wanted a couple of his own."

Plans for Harrelson's funeral services are still unknown.

From the Alexander City Outlook