Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Godspeed, Captain Allen

We have to keep before us the faces and stories of the people who have died tragically in this misbegotten war. I include today excerpts from the obituary of Captain Jennifer Harris of Massachusetts, a victim of one of the recent helicopter crashes in Iraq. She was only 28 years old.

"Captain Jennifer Jean Harris was one of the first pilots to reach her helicopter and lift off when the emergency call came into the ready room on the day that she died. Though the 28-year-old Marine was just days from leaving Iraq, Harris was still focused on ferrying injured Marines to safety, said her former commander, Colonel Michael Hudson . Before the CH-46 troop transport she was piloting crashed this month, he said, Harris and her six crew members saved the life of one more Marine.

Yesterday, more than 1,000 mourners crowded into St. John the Evangelist Church to say a final goodbye to Harris, watching as a Marine honor guard carried her flag-draped coffin into the seaside church where she was baptized. Harris, the first Massachusetts servicewoman killed in the Iraq war, never rested on her laurels, her former Naval Academy roommate said, beating the odds to become a female pilot in the Marine Corps' renowned Purple Foxes. But Harris's former commander said her true legacy may be measured in funerals never held.

"There are so many people today who are not gathered in a place like this because Captain Harris flew," intoned Hudson, standing ramrod straight in his dress blue uniform as he spoke from the pulpit...

Coming less than six months after the funeral for another Iraq casualty -- Army Specialist Jared J. Raymond -- in the same church, some mourners had a painful sense of deja vu. In all, 65 Massachusetts service members have died in Iraq, according to an estimate from Senator Edward M. Kennedy's office. Sargent Drew Glazier, a Marine reservist who played taps for Harris yesterday at the cemetery, said he had lost count of the funerals for Iraq casualties at which he had performed.

Harris, the only daughter of a General Electric worker and a schoolteacher, died with all of her crew members when her helicopter crashed 20 miles northwest of Baghdad on Feb. 7. A Sunni group with connections to Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility, but the Marines have not confirmed that. A Marine spokesman has said that the aircraft was in flames as it went down, but there was no sign of enemy fire.

The Rev. Clyde Chetwynde , pastor of St. John, said Harris was shaped by a loving extended family who gave her the courage to dream big, even when she was a young girl. "You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals," Harris wrote in her 1996 high school yearbook. "To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement." That fall, she entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Lieutenant Rose Goscinski , Harris's roommate at Annapolis, recalled that when Harris learned she had been accepted into Marine aviation training, Harris gave all her Navy dress uniforms to the younger, similar-sized Goscinski so that she would not have to purchase more uniforms herself. "You felt guilty complaining to her about some minute thing because, my goodness, she could do it all and do it with grace and style," Goscinski said.

Now, Goscinski said, her "sister in arms" can rest, concluding, "You have fought the good fight. You have finished the race. Lay hold of eternal life." The congregation broke into applause.

"Captain Harris was free when she flew," Hudson said. "She flies now on the wings of angels."


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