Monday, September 03, 2007

Joshua Harmon laid to rest

The Rev. Thomas Johns found a tiny way to explain the significance of Cpl. Joshua S. Harmon's life.

"On a headstone, there are two dates - a birth date and date of death," said the pastor of St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Mentor during his eulogy for the man who died Aug. 22 while serving in Iraq. "But what is important is not those two dates, but the dash in between them.

"In Josh Harmon's case, the dash was too short.

"But his dash was filled with music, cars and love for his family and friends."

Sitting at a reception following Harmon's funeral, Marie Lemr thought of the thousands who lined the roads en route to Friday's funeral, and the hundreds who gathered inside the church.

"Even if you didn't know Josh personally or the young man he had become, no one's life story is supposed to end that way," she said.

Lemr is close friends with Donna Harmon, Harmon's mother, and was one of those who paid respects to the 20-year-old U.S. Army medic.

"There isn't anybody who doesn't know somebody who's over in Iraq," Lemr said. "They feel like it could have been their kid, or brother or friend."

'They're going to remember him'

Thousands watched the procession for Harmon as it crawled from Monreal Funeral Home in Eastlake to the church, and then to Mentor Municipal Cemetery.

Some waved flags, some saluted. Even more held their hands over their hearts. Schoolchildren in uniforms from Immaculate Conception School in Willoughby watched as the cavalcade passed.

"Now those children are going to go home and talk about Josh, and they're going to remember him," Donna Harmon said later at the reception.

"People who never even met Josh are never going to forget him. That's big."

Some who watched the procession carried posters and banners commemorating Harmon. More than 2,000 Mentor High School students listened as marching band members played "God Bless America" for the 2005 graduate.

"It's tremendous," Richard Harmon said of the community support after his son's interment. "It makes you feel a lot less alone in the world. Everyone has a little bit of Josh in their heart now."

Richard Harmon is fire chief in Willoughby Hills, and more than 100 firefighters from dozens of departments attended the funeral to pay their respects to the family. They even framed the entryway of the cemetery with a flag hung from the top of two tankers, a tradition at firefighter funerals.

Dr. Mike Anderson, medical director for Willoughby Hills Fire Department, said his chief's son did more than simply serve in the military.

"He just wanted to do something that made a real difference," Anderson said. "And also, Josh was more than hero, he was a healer as well."

After the funeral service, three Black Hawk helicopters flew over the church, because Harmon served aboard such crafts during his service. At the cemetery, two MedEvac helicopters flew over the cemetery, because Harmon was an Army medic.

Harmon and 13 other soldiers died when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Multaka, outside of Kirkuk. Military authorities attributed it to a mechanical failure. Harmon, a medic for the 2-35 Scout Sniper Platoon, was 40 days from returning home to his family, which includes his wife, Kristin Rathjen Harmon.

On May 3, one of the snipers in Harmon's platoon, Fredrick Meyers, was shot in the head during a battle. Harmon tried to stabilize Meyers, using CPR to resuscitate him. Then, Meyers lost his pulse again, and Harmon resuscitated him a second time.

When Harmon's vehicle malfunctioned, soldiers had to fetch another. Harmon managed to keep Meyers breathing and conscious.

"Do you know how hard it is for two or three medics to save one person's life, let alone one medic trying to do it in the back of a bumpy Humvee," Harmon's brother, Jason Kriz, said.
But Harmon did keep Meyers alive, and the recuperating soldier attended Harmon's visiting hours at the funeral home Thursday.

"My son will live on in Freddy," Donna Harmon said.

Kristin Harmon remembered her husband's phone calls, when he excitedly described helping someone who was hurt.

"It's the impact he had and the things he did over there," she said. "He truly went over there to help people."

Harmon was awarded the Army Medal of Commendation for Valor and Combat Medic Award for his actions May 3. During his funeral, he also received the Bronze Star and the Army Good Conduct Medal.

"Josh made the ultimate sacrifice. He was a bona fide hero," said Frank Kriz, Harmon's uncle, said his eulogy.

Kriz paid tribute to the young man whom most described as always smiling.

"He was a sweetheart in more ways than one," he said. "We will remember that sweet boyish grin he carried into adulthood."

Donna Harmon said she has been overwhelmed by the support the family has received since her son's death. She has received cards from Harmon's friends, elementary school and teachers - even his pediatrician.

"All of the support, it does help," she said.

Four of Harmon's platoon mates have contacted Donna Harmon and Kristin Harmon. They plan to visit in October to share stories and pictures with the women in Harmon's life.

"He was loved by all those guys he was with," Harmon's wife said.

The couple married by proxy May 10, seven days after he saved Meyers' life. They were 40 days from moving into their new apartment in Hawaii when his helicopter crashed. She is now a 22-year-old widow who cries when she thinks of life without Harmon.

His bride purchased an extra wedding band that she buried with Harmon. She'll wear his original around her neck.

"They got the apartment. They were counting down (to Harmon's return.) They were so much in love," his mother said.

Harmon's friends have also chosen a way to commemorate him. Eric Lemr, Scott Walland, Kyle Fisher and Jayme Vines will get tattoos when Vines returns from the Anbar Province of Iraq, said Vines' father, Ron.

Vines, a Marine, was not permitted to return home for Harmon's funeral.

When asked how Vines was handling Harmon's death, Ron Vines said, "Not well."

Another of Harmon's friends, neighbor Brandon Alexander, has already been inked in honor of him.

Jason Kriz also plans to get a tattoo for his brother.

"It's going to be on the inside of my arm," he said, "so whenever I put my arm down, it's closest to my heart."

From the News Herald

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Joshua Harmon remembered by family

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