Friday, October 01, 2010

Army Staff Sgt. Willie J. Harley Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Willie J. Harley Jr., 48, of Aiken, S.C.

SSgt. Harley was assigned to the 1221st Engineer Clearance Company, South Carolina National Guard, Graniteville, S.C.; died Oct. 1, 2010 in Paktika province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his military vehicle with an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Spc. Luther W. Rabon Jr.

The sister of Staff Sgt. Willie Harley Jr. sat in her living room, trying to fight back tears and clutching a tissue as she described the last conversation she had with her brother on Sept. 26.

Harley made his usual call to his sister, Barbara Glover, to tell her he was doing OK. That day, they talked about what she was going to make him for dinner when he came home: butter beans, ham hocks, rice and chocolate cake.

"I was going to cook him a good meal," she said, tears welling up in her eyes, adding that they exchanged their last spoken "I love you" on the phone that day.

Harley, 48, of Aiken, was one of two South Carolina National Guardsmen from the 122nd Engineering Battalion based in Graniteville who were killed Friday in the Paktika province in Afghanistan when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED).

Spc. Luther Rabon, 32, of Lexington, was also killed in that incident. Harley and Rabon were part of the 1221st Engineer Clearance Company of around 100 men and women who left July 9 for their deployment.

In a press release, Major Gen. Stanhope S. Spears, the adjutant general for South Carolina, stated, "Specialist Rabon and Staff Sergeant Harley were serving their country with honor and pride. The South Carolina National Guard has lost two more members of our family. My thoughts and prayers go out to their families and friends."

Harley is survived by his seven children ranging in age from around 4 to 25 - Christopher Fuller, Allison, Calvin, Desmond, Willie III, Richard and Messiah, according to Glover. Glover said that his children were his life, and he was a great father.

"He was caring. Any time he could help someone out, he did," Glover said.

His oldest son, Christopher, served in the same unit as Harley and is on his way home from Afghanistan, according to his wife, Lakeshia Fuller. This was Christopher's first deployment, and she said that he is doing OK at the moment. She added that Harley will be sorely missed.

"He was not just a father or a friend; he was a hero," she said.

Kenith Corley had been friends with Harley since he was around 6 years old. A smile dominates his face when talking about their childhood together - both would get home from elementary school, get into a fight with each other and then, five minutes later, they were playing together in one of their yards.

Harley and Corley played football together at Aiken High School and both graduated in 1981. Corley said Harley loved football, and the two coached the sport at East Aiken Elementary School for more than 15 years.

"He was more like a brother to me," Corley said. "It's going to be weird, especially when you've known someone for 40-plus years."

After Harley graduated from high school, he immediately joined the National Guard, Glover said. He served three tours, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Harley told Corley before he left for Afghanistan that when he came home, he was not going back and that was going to be his last deployment.

Corley said that Harley's death is like something that he had always seen on television, and now those devastating news headlines have finally hit home. He said when he initially heard the news of his friend's death, he hoped that, somehow, it was just a cruel joke.

Army Staff Sgt. Willie J. Harley Jr. was killed in action on 10/01/10.

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