Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Michael Hardegree laid to rest

On Sept. 1, Stan Hardegree posted a story on the Villa Rica Voice, a local news Web site he runs for the Georgia community, located a half-hour west of Atlanta. It was a travelogue about a trip he took to Washington to pick up a new BMW 5 Series, a welcome-home gift for his son, Michael, who was due back from Iraq soon.

Michael's godfather, Bob Kruger, had purchased the car, and so father and godfather flew to Washington to pick it up and then drove back together. "It was a good day," Stan Hardegree wrote.

Less than a month later, Hardegree was back for a much more somber task. He returned to bury his son at Arlington National Cemetery.

Army Sgt. Michael C. Hardegree, 21, of Villa Rica died Sept. 10 in Baghdad, in a non-combat-related vehicle rollover, the Department of Defense reported. He and six other soldiers were killed when the truck they were riding in overturned. The circumstances are under investigation.

Michael Hardegree came from a tightknit family, said Margaret Kienzle, a longtime family friend. He adored his mother, Cynthia, respected his father and had a close relationship with his sister, Beth, Kienzle said.

"He was a very thoughtful and serious young man," Kienzle said. "And it has been devastating, both to them and for all of their friends and everyone who knows them, because life will never be the same with him gone."

More than 190 mourners gathered yesterday to say goodbye to Michael Hardegree. The throng of relatives and friends followed his flag-covered coffin while an Army band played.

Stan Hardegree told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he last spoke with his son the day before he was killed.

"I said, 'Keep your head down,' " he told the paper. He said his son had agreed to come back and speak to a class at Temple High School, where Stan Hardegree teaches ninth- and 10th-grade English.

The last time Hardegree was home was for two weeks in June, when he surprised his mother on her birthday.

In 2004, Michael Hardegree graduated from Villa Rica High School, where his mother teaches social studies. His father and grandfather were both paratroopers, so he decided to continue the military tradition and joined the Army. He served two tours in Iraq.

He was due home in November, and he planned to go to college, get a degree and then head back to the military to try for Special Forces.

The six soldiers killed with Hardegree were Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, of Ismay, Mont.; Staff Sgt. Gregory Rivera-Santiago, 26, of St. Croix, Virgin Islands; Sgt. Omar L. Mora, 28, of Texas City, Tex.; Sgt. Nicholas J. Patterson, 24, of Rochester, Ind.; Spec. Ari D. Brown-Weeks, 23, of Abingdon, Md.; and Spec. Steven R. Elrod, 20, of Hope Mills, N.C.

The soldiers were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. Two of the men, Gray and Mora, were among a group of soldiers who last month wrote a New York Times op-ed piece criticizing the U.S. strategy in Iraq and disputing claims of success.

As Stan Hardegree made the trip to Washington to drive the BMW home this past summer, his thoughts turned to his son.

"My mind wanders to Mike, slogging it out with the bad guys in Iraq, and I wonder how he will like his homecoming present," Stan Hardegree wrote in his travelogue. "I figure that he will like it just fine."

From the Washington Post

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