Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jennifer J. Harris Guest Book

Over a month after her death, many people are still searching the 'net for Marine Captain Jennifer J. Harris, a member of the elite Purple Foxes helicopter unit who got shot down while conducting a medevac mission in Iraq. To be frank, I don't want to rationally examine why her death struck such a chord in me, but it did, and I'm far from alone in that reaction. Warriors die in war, such is the nature of desperate conflict. I don't know why it bothers me like it does, or why I've followed her story over others. Maybe she was an unwitting warrior, a professional who should not have been so casually exposed to enemy fire, or maybe that's just exposing my antiquated chauvinistic instincts which feel like women shouldn't be in combat, even if I know it's safer to be a soldier than a civilian on a modern battlefield. It jams my emotions and logic, setting them off against each other, and makes me nearly mute.

A few weeks ago, I went to and read all her Guest Book entries, but it seemed too maudlin or intrusive at the time to post here. Yet the entries keep piling up, and the nation finds her passing more significant than can be rationally grasped. Either way, those who knew her all testify of an uplifting, shining person who is deeply missed. Here is her commanding officer's entry:

February 14, 2007
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Harris,

I have known Jennifer for a little over a year as an Officer of Marines, squadron pilot and as a friend. She was a very special young lady whose grace, poise and charm brought life to this squadron. Her intelligence, drive and dedication brought her to great heights within this community, having attained the highest designation available to a CH-46E pilot, that of a Weapons and Tactics Instructor.

Jennifer brought out the best in those around her because she was so demanding of herself, yet understanding of others. She believed in her mission as a helicopter pilot and dedicated fourteen and fifteen hour days while deployed in Iraq to ensure that every mission was well coordinated and executed as safely as possible. She watched out for the young pilots in the squadron and took them under her wing. She used to kid that she was their mother hen. She was equally protective of her peers and those senior to her. She was after all, a Purple Fox. She was always professional but managed to make things pleasant with her endearing personality.

Since her passing, the squadron has been mourning her departure. A candlelight vigil has remained lit both day and night on the doorstep of her quarters. The first night there was a single Teddy Bear and a bouquet of flowers. Each night, another stuffed animal has appeared along with flowers, notes, and cards. Having so many flowers appear in an austere desert environment speaks volumes of her Marines Love for her. The Marines stand watch over the vigil at night to ensure the candles are not extinguished. They will do so until Jennifer arrives home in Swampscott and is laid to rest.

The squadron appears the same on the surface, but her absence echoes in all of our hearts. The emptiness we feel is nothing compared to the sorrow your family and friends back home must be experiencing.

Jennifer spoke often of Swampscott and would forward pictures of the waterfront to all the members of the squadron. She spoke of her friends who supported her back home with care packages, cards and letters. Jennifer was looking forward to visiting this Spring after her return. She spoke of sailing out in the bay and displayed a picture of her friend’s boat she was hoping to sail on this Summer. Her orders were taking her back to DC where she was only an hour flight away from her home and her family, who she always spoke of with great pride, affection and Love.

The squadron held a memorial service this past Sunday. The chapel was filled beyond capacity with grieving friends for Jennifer and her crew. An hour after the services concluded, over one hundred of her friends remained to console each other, tell stories and be close to others who knew her. Jennifer will live on in all of our hearts for she touched each and every one of us profoundly. Through our stories of Jennifer that we share with each other, she will visit us and grace us with her beautiful smile.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your entire family.

With Heartfelt sympathy.

Sean C. Killeen
Commanding Officer HMM-364
“Jen’s Purple Foxes”
Sean Killeen (Al Taqaddum, Iraq)

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