Monday, September 17, 2007

Michael C. Hardegree dies 'of injuries suffered from a non-combat related vehicle rollover'

There was little doubt that Michael Hardegree would join the Army after graduating from high school.

His grandfather had been a paratrooper, as was his dad. And Hardegree felt a sense of duty to continue that family tradition, his father said.

the Army as a paratrooper and served two tours of duty in Iraq, exposed to virtually non-stop combat.

Another two months, and the Carroll County man would have been returning home, possibly to enroll at the University of Alabama. His proud father, Stan, had purchased a BMW 5 series with which to welcome his son back.

But Michael C. Hardegree, a 21-year-old Army sergeant from Villa Rica, was among seven soldiers killed Monday in a non-combat related vehicle rollover in Baghdad, the Department of Defense said Thursday.

They were killed when their truck veered off an elevated highway in western Baghdad and fell about 30 feet, the military said. The circumstances surrounding the incident are still under investigation, according to military officials.

Thursday, Stan Hardegree sat through interview after interview with media outlets with a stoic composure that belied the turmoil inside, he said.

He hadn't yet started the grieving process for his only son, he said: "I have a duty to perform. I have got to get my son home and pay my respects to him first."

Hardegree's body is expected back in Georgia sometime over the weekend or early next week, after which funeral arrangements will be announced by J.Collins Funeral Home & Cremation Service.

Both his parents are teachers: Stan Hardegree teaches English to 9th and 10th graders at Temple High School. Cindy Hardegree is a social studies teacher at Villa Rica High.

The last time father and son talked was on Sunday. Hardegree had agreed to come back and speak to a Temple High class on the subject of combat. He said he would think about how to approach the topic, and said he had to go to prepare for a mission, his father said.

"I said, 'Keep your head down," Stan Hardegree recalled.

Hardegree's passion was music — he played guitars and drums — and golf, which he picked up from his dad.

In addition to his parents, Hardegree leaves behind an older sister, Beth Shaw of Ft. Monroe, Va.

Among those killed in Monday's rollover were Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, of Ismay, Mont., and Sgt. Omar L. Mora, 28, of Texas City, Texas.

The two men were among a group of soldiers who recently wrote an op-ed article that appeared in the New York Times and disputed U.S. claims of success in Iraq.

The seven were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution