Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Marine Capt. Jennifer J. Harris

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Capt. Jennifer J. Harris, 28, of Swampscott, Mass.

Capt. Harris was assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died Feb. 7, 2007 when the helicopter she was flying in crashed while supporting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq. Also killed were 1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker, Sgt. Travis D. Pfister, Cpl. Thomas E. Saba, Sgt. James R. Tijerina, Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Gilbert Minjares Jr. and Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Manuel A. Ruiz.

Town says good-bye to Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris
By George Derringer/

Capt. Jennifer Jean Harris, USMC, age 28 and a helicopter pilot, of Swampscott was “a woman of excellence,” said her roommate at the U.S. Naval Academy, Navy Lt. Rosie Goscinski.

“It took two sets of parents, loving grandparents and the entire town of Swampscott to raise a kid like you,” Harris’ cousin, Christina Ahearn took Harris in remarks directed to her during her funeral Monday at St. John the Evangelist Church. “You wear a different set of wings now.”

And Harris “has an internal light, burning bright, that was not going to settle for halfway measures,” said Marine Col Michael Hudson, her commanding officer during her second tour of Iraq in 2005 and one who mourns her death Feb. 7 when what are called “insurgents” fired on the helicopter Harris was piloting on a casualty rescue mission in Iraq.

For the second time in five months, Swampscott mourned again Monday as family, friends, classmates and ordinary citizens said good-bye to the young Marine woman, who was engaged to be married to another Marine, Maj. Christopher Aaby.

Ahearn addressed her remarks directly to Capt. Harris.

“You were always about others but today is about you,” Ahearn said during the Mass, recalling a day when Harris was unable to find her airline ticket but still “was able to fly a multi-million dollar aircraft.”

Harris “worked more than any one person could because halfway was never acceptable,” Ahearn said, reciting other relatives’ remembrances of the 1996 Swampscott High School graduate as “a motivator” and “leader.”

“Jenn, there are so many wonderful things I want to say about you,” Ahearn continued.“We (always) knew you were special. We miss you and it hurts. We love you, Jennifer.”

Goscinski remembered how her roommate during their common first year at Annapolis “always talked about her home in a little town called Swampscott” and said she adopted Harris as her “big sister,” in part because Harris knew how to be “a mother hen of sorts” without causing offense.

“Jenn genuinely cared about people,” Goscinski continued. “And she could do it all, with style and class.”

But Harris wanted to be a pilot and Goscinski remembers the day she learned that she had been accepted into aviation in the Marine Corps.

“The first thing she did was offer me all of her Navy dress uniforms because she wouldn’t need them and I wouldn’t have to spend the money to buy them,” Goscinski said. “She was the epitome of today’s leader… but never rested on the laurels of her past accomplishments.”

Most of all, Goscinski said, “She made me want to become great. As Jesus said there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for others, Capt. Harris gave her life for God, country and her fellow Americans.

Hudson, who was the executive officer for Harris’ first deployment to Iraq and commanding officer for her second, recalled that he was looking for the best people during that first tour and found one in Jenniefer Harris.

“I was looking for the strengths and weaknesses of the Purple Foxes,” Hudson said, referring to HMM-364, known as the “Purple Foxes,” a famous Marine squadron with a long history. Her unit specialized in evacuation of casualties and had to act quickly, Hudson said, to rescue American military personnel who were within an hour of dying.

Hudson said he saw Harris’ “light burning bright” and nominated her for training as a weapons and tactics instructor.

“She came back as an accomplished professional,” Hudson told the packed church sanctuary, then explained how she and her colleagues waited to make 100-year sprints to their Sea Knight helicopters and take off within five minutes. In fact, he said, Harris’ unit had saved a life the very day she was killed.

“She would fly in the dark, in bad weather, Jennifer Harris would fly,” Hudson said. “She would fly so others could live.”

The Most Rev. Francis Irwin, auxiliary bishop in the Boston Archdiocese for the North Region, spoke briefly on behalf of Archbishop Sean O’Malley, who had attended visiting hours Sunday evening at the funeral home.

He recalled the words of the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you? Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

“And that is what we heard about Jennifer, over and over, from her fellow Marines, her classmates, her family and from many who knew and loved her,” the bishop said

The Rev. Clyde Chetwynde, pastor of St. John’s (Harris’ home parish), said the huge crowd attended because “in some way, Jennifer Harris had an effect on our lives.” Referring to the opening paragraphs of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chetwynde called the Beatitudes “the words by which Jesus asked you and you and you and me to live our lives every minute.”

He said the land is dotted by monuments in memory of those who tried to live by those words, “who gave to God and their nation, the very best of themselves.” And they include Jennifer Harris, he said, recalling her service in the My Brother’s Table soup kitchen, at Salem Hospital and at Swampscott High School organizations.

“This is a better town because of her presence here,” he said. “It takes time to accept our loss. But our letting go is accepting that Jennifer is going to the kingdom.”

The Rev. Dean Pedersen, pastor of First Church, Congregational, and also a captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, also offered a prayer, mentioning relatives by name, the Marines, all who fly and all Purple Foxes.

Marine Capt. Jennifer J. Harris was killed in action on 02/07/07.

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