Friday, May 08, 2009

Army Pvt. Justin P. Hartford

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pvt. Justin P. Hartford, 21, of Elmira, N.Y.

Pvt. Hartford was assigned to the 699th Maintenance Company, Corps Support Battalion, 916th Support Brigade, Fort Irwin, Calif.; died May 8, 2009 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a noncombat-related incident.

Soldier inspired family members, loved being in the Army
By Salle E. Richards
Binghamton) Press & Sun-Bullein

The hurt to Justin P. Hartford’s family was evident in their voices and on their faces Tuesday afternoon as his mother, Alice Hartford, talked to news media about her son and his unexpected death in Iraq.

“This is for him,” she said of her reason for talking to media at such a painful personal time. “Our Justin is worth remembering.”

Pvt. Hartford, of Elmira, died Friday at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident. His death is under investigation, according to the Army.

The family memories of the soldier were of a young man full of life and looking for adventure.

Inspired by an older brother who served in the Marine Corps, he first thought the Army Reserve would satisfy his desire for new experiences.

“But it was too boring,” his mother said. “He just got to play on weekends. You don’t get much action if you only play on weekends.”

Justin itched for the real thing, his mother said. He requested to be transferred to active duty.

“He’d played video games his whole life. Why play video games when you can do the real thing and actually make a difference?” she said. “That’s all he wanted to do, make a difference. He might of been a jokester, but he helped whenever and however he could.”

His path from high school cut-up to soldier wasn’t an easy one, his mother said.

“You don’t go to the STARS program for nothing. He went twice,” she said of an alternative program for young offenders.

“It helps kids who make bad choices and do stupid things,” she said. “Later on they regret it, but by then, they have their butts in so much trouble there’s no way up without help.”

STARS gave Justin that help, Alice Hartford said.

The last time she talked to him he was full of ideas and plans for the future.

“He was a good kid from the get-go,” she said. “He wanted to go every place and do everything. He loved life to the fullest and never ever meant to leave us.”

His younger sister, Chelsey Hartford, 17, had mixed feelings about his decision to go regular Army. She thought he was safer in the reserves.

“But it was cool. I was proud of him,” she said.

“He actually got through it ...,” Chelsey said and then paused thoughtfully. “I guess we can’t say that anymore.”

Alice Hartford said that after the death of husband, Paul Hartford, six months ago, Justin tried even harder to look out for his sisters.

“He gave me the ‘Big Brother speech,’” said Bill VonRapacki, a friend of Chelsey.

Chelsey said she was very close to her brother.

“I was his little amigo,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “He called me Baby Sis.”

Chelsey said Justin promised to help her with her plans to go to Ireland next summer.

“He said ‘Don’t worry, Baby Sis, I gotcha. No matter what,’” Chelsey said.

Her memories of her brother swirl between having fun and remembering him working on trucks with their father.

“He got on the ground and got greasy,” she said.

Alice Hartford said she supported the decision of both her sons to go into the military and still does. But she now has a different perspective.

“Now I know what other mothers and fathers go through while they’re waiting for their casket to come home. War is Hell. I want them all back home,” she said. “I’ve lost my son. Now I want to protest everything. But I will do the right thing because my son would expect that of me.

“I’m not crying over that,” she said quietly. “I’m crying over that I can’t enjoy any more years with him.”

Alice Hartford said she isn’t against the military. But she is also anxious to learn the circumstances of her son’s death.

“I just need to know,” she said. “But I understand it takes time.”

In the meantime, all she can do is remember and cherish what has been lost.

“Nobody could tell a story better than our Justin. If you met him once, you would never forget him,” she said and allowed a little smile as she fingered a metal around her neck. Justin Hartford had received it for saving another soldier’s life during training. “This means a lot to me.”

“But I’d rather have him.”

Army Pvt. Justin P. Hartford was killed in a non-combat related incident on 5/8/09.

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