Blake McKenzie "BuddahMan" Harris
March 30, 1979 - March 15, 2007
Staff Sergeant Blake M. Harris, son of Paul and Anne Harris of Royston, Ga. was killed March 15, 2007 in Iraq while on foot patrol, when a roadside bomb was remotely detonated. He is survived by his parents, his wife Brandy Harris and son Tyrus of Belton, TX., his brother Eric Harris and sister Holli Harris Bynum.
Blake was a member of the 1st Cavalry Division of the United States Army. He had served previously as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan and the 1st Armor Division in Baghdad. Blake joined the Army directly after graduating from Lovejoy High School in 1997 and was planning on making the Army as his career. He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. Blake received several distinguished service awards while serving in the Middle East and was well liked by his subordinates and superiors. Blake was a soldier that could be depended on to complete his mission and was recognized as such by his commanding officers who relied on Blake to lead and train others. He had experience as a combat paratrooper, Headquarters Staff Support, Dining Facility Manager and most recently as a Forward Observer for Army infantry and armor.
Memorial Service for Staff Sergeant Blake M. Harris will be 2:00 p.m., Friday, March 23, 2007 at the First Baptist Church of Jonesboro with Dr. Dean Haun and Rev. Larry Lawrence officiating. Funeral Services will be held at the Chapel of the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA., with interment following in the cemetery.
On Thursday, March 15, 2007 I received a phone call at work from my daughter-in-law, Brandy, from Belton, Texas. She said, “Mom, I just got the scare of my life. I just drove up to my house and there was a military vehicle 3 or 4 houses up from ours and two soldiers were walking to the door. I stopped and thought; oh, that poor family. “But thank God it’s not me, it’s not Blake.” Within only moments her doorbell rang and I heard the Captain say, “Mrs. Harris, we are so sorry but….” Brandy screamed and dropped the phone and both of us were saying “Oh, God, no not Blake.” When she gained enough composure, she told the Chaplain that Blake’s Mom was on the phone and he picked it up and told me that my son had been killed in Iraq and he was so sorry that he had to tell me on the phone, but that a military detail would be at our house in Georgia shortly. My closest friend, Sharon, grabbed me and frantically drove me home and on the way I called my husband, Paul, to meet me at home. I could not tell him why, but he knew from my voice that it was something urgent. Sharon and I arrived at my house and because I had given my car keys to another friend, Martha, to drive my car home, I was locked out of my house. It didn’t matter because within 5 minutes the military Captain and Chaplain arrived. Paul followed not 10 seconds behind. I can’t begin to tell you the pain that we all shared in those few moments and the intense pain that has followed. The Chaplain and I literally had to hold my husband up.
I was so worried about Brandy & our grandson, Tyrus, being alone in Texas that I called Paul’s niece in Dallas to get her to go to Belton to be with Brandy. Layne was en route from vacationing in Colorado and would not be home until the next day. She called the rest of the family members in Dallas to inform all of them of the tragedy. I was also concerned about our daughter, Holli, who is extremely close to both of her brothers. I called my husband’s brother, David, to go to Holli’s job at North Fulton Hospital to inform her of our loss because I couldn’t bear the thought of her finding out on the phone. Unfortunately, the traffic in Atlanta delayed his arrival and one of her cousins from Dallas phoned her in tears. Kelli kept crying but couldn’t speak and Holli kept asking her what was wrong, she finally said, “You don’t know? Oh my Lord, call your Mom” and hung up. She tried to call me and I was on the phone with someone else. In panic, she called her Dad’s phone and he had no choice but to tell her. I could hear her screaming through the phone. Paul was crying and my sweet sister took the phone and tried to calm her down but there was no comfort to be found at that time. Holli’s boss came to her and had to take her to the emergency room where they had to give her oxygen and a mild sedative. Holli’s husband, Monty, and Paul’s brother arrived at the hospital at the same time. Holli and Monty came to our house later that evening and remained by our side until Sunday night.
Our eldest son, Eric and his wife, Michelle, were in Spain on spring break from their MBA program at the University of Indiana. We had no way to contact them to inform them of this horrible nightmare. Michelle’s mother, Kim, from Orlando tried to e-mail them that there was an urgent situation at home and Eric needed to call us. Unfortunately, when they finally received the message on Friday afternoon, their cell phones would not turn on, so they did not have our numbers creating an additional delay receiving a call.
We finally talked to Eric late on Friday evening. They tried to get a flight out but could not until their reserved ticket time on Sunday. They arrived at the Atlanta Airport on Sunday evening. We insisted that they proceed to Indiana because Eric is due to graduate in May and cannot miss many classes. They joined us Thursday the 22nd in Jonesboro, Ga. where the Memorial Service was to take place the following day. Eric, as you can imagine, was very devastated. He and Blake were more than close. Eric was Blake’s mentor and the one he looked up to for advice in every aspect of life.
Brandy’s sister, Amanda, and Blake served together in
The Memorial Service was held at The First Baptist Church in
Paul also grew up in this church and we became members as a family when we moved to Jonesboro in 1979. I was 8 months pregnant with Blake. All three of our children were very active in this church. Blake chose to maintain his membership at FBC when he went into the military. We are so blessed to still be considered family there after having moved to my home town of Royston, Ga. 2 years ago. We have had an outpouring of love and support from our Christian friends there and from our Royston First United Methodist Church family as well.
The service was so special. There were over 1,000 in attendance. The choir and orchestra did a superb job as they sang “Made Me Glad with It Is Well With My Soul”, “Statement of Faith” featuring Richard Lawless as the soloist and “Thou, Oh Lord”. The presentation of the Christian flag was done by Gaines Jinks a veteran of Viet Nam and a close personal friend of the family. The colors were posted by the U.S. Army color guard. “The Star Spangled Banner” was sung by the choir and the congregation. Blake’s and Brandy’s song “I Believe” by Brooks and Dunn was played after a presentation by the Patriot Guard Riders of the Gold Star Flag. The Memorial Flag was presented by Brigadier-General Randy Anderson. As we stood in honor of our soldier, son, brother, husband and father, Taps resonated from the balcony. The sad but sweet music radiated throughout the church. As we left the sanctuary “Onward Christian Soldiers” was played on the piano and organ. What a wonderful tribute to Blake.
Some of you that will receive this do not know my children. But I will tell you that we have had phone call after phone call and e-mail messages from previous comrades and even from some still in Iraq who were there when Blake was killed. All say that Blake was a model soldier and that they all were proud to serve under him and that he was unsurpassed as a leader. He kept their spirits up when they were down and homesick and he never let them see that same side of him. He cried on the phone to his wife that he wanted to be home with her and his son but he never gave his guys the impression that he was anything but dedicated to the cause.
Before he left for his third and final tour in this awful war, he told us that he had an awesome responsibility this time around and that his greatest fear was that he would not get all of his guy’s home alive. Unfortunately, 3 of them died with Blake. He never showed us his fear for his own life. He stated that it didn’t matter whether he was home or abroad that when it was his time, it was his time and only God knew when that was to be. Blake was a strong believer in God and had devotionals with some of his soldiers in the evenings. He had planned to re-enlist at the end of 2009 which would be the end of his twelfth year of service. He wanted to go to Officers Candidate School to become a Warrant Office and retire at 38 with 20 years service. Blake would have been 28 years old on March 30, 2007. We are very proud of all three of our precious children and we are duly proud that Blake honored our country and our freedom with his service. Unfortunately, for us and his sweet wife and young son, he gave up his life for the cause. But, we know that he is in the arms of the Savior and that he is radiating Heaven with his infectious smile, while laughing with the Lord and family members that have preceded him.
Brandy, Blake’s sweet wife, has been so strong. With the aid of 1st Sgt. Anthony Smith, assigned to her as her Casualty Assistance Officer, planned the entire Arlington service. The service was held on March 28, 2007; 2 days before Blake’s 28th birthday. I understand that they perform 20 to 25 funeral services a day and we were very fortunate to get a burial date within 2 weeks of Blake’s death. We were treated with the utmost respect while we were in Washington. Amanda took Ty out for the evening because Brandy didn’t think it would be a good idea for him to see Blake. The family and friends gathered at Murphy Funeral Home on Tuesday evening between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. There were several that came from Jonesboro to be with us. Brandy chose not to see Blake’s body but agreed to have the casket open for those who wanted to see him and say goodbye. I know that was my son lying in the casket but it didn’t look like Blake. The smile that lit up every room he walked into was not on his sweet face.
The next morning, we gathered back at Murphy Funeral Home for a 9:00 a.m. Chapel service. Brandy had not been in the room where Blake’s body lay and when she sat down she immediately got sick and ran out of the room to the restroom. Her sister followed and they returned just as the service was about to begin. Larry Lawrence did a beautiful job of remembering Blake and opened the floor to any others who wanted to say a few words. There were many people who spoke of Blake’s love of life, his immense love for his family, his mischievous nature, his beautiful smile and his dedicated service. While Larry was speaking the microphone kept popping and it sounded as if there was a knocking echo in the room. Little Ty was sitting up close to me and he looked at me so seriously and asked “Nana, is my Daddy in that box”? “Is he alive in that box”. I told him that his Daddy’s body was in the box but that he had gone to live with Jesus”. He replied “I want to see my Daddy”, “Are you sure he is not alive in that box and knocking to get out?” “I want to see my Daddy” My heart broke for a little boy who wanted so desperately for his Daddy to be alive in that box and come out to all of us, who loved him so much. I told him that as soon as the service was over we would see what we could do about letting him see his Daddy. I told Brandy what had happened and she agreed for Ty to see Blake but left the room herself. The funeral director opened the casket and I held Ty in my arms as he saw his Daddy for the last time. He cried a little and walked out of the room to his Mom. My heart broke even more if that was possible. HWe left the funeral home in a motorcade to Arlington where we gathered in Room C at the Administration Building. After Brigadier General R.D. Jones presented us with Blake’s “Purple Heart and Bronze Star” and other medals and pins of honor we were escorted to the cemetery. We stood in line behind the General, Brandy & Ty as the flag draped coffin was removed from the hearse by the Honor Guard and taken to the gravesite. We followed behind the coffin and witnessed a very touching full military service for our son. The flag that draped Blake’s casket was presented to Brandy. The flag that had been given to us at the Memorial Service was ceremoniously touched to Blake’s casket and then re-presented to us. Then the twenty-one gun salute rang through the cemetery followed by the playing of Taps.
The entire ceremony was as wonderful a tribute as could be afforded any fallen soldier. The morning dawned clear and beautiful, just like we had asked God for. Friends, comrades, the impressive Arlington Honor Guard and Brigadier-General Jones were there. Gen. Jones held onto Brandy as if she was his own daughter-in-law as we made our way slowly out to the gravesite. I cried not only for my own son, but for all the thousands of white crosses that were already there, just since Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. . I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to a fallen soldier than to be laid to rest beside other fallen comrades that also gave the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of those that could not defend themselves.
When Taps echoed across that hillside it was the most mournful and beautiful sound of a trumpet this side of heaven, for we knew our soldier's final journey was complete. But the wonderful thing about kneeling next to that coffin for the last time; we knew it was not the last time we would be in the presence of our son. There is truly a fine line between where joy and sorrow meet. We have the joy of knowing that he is in the arms of our Savior and the sorrow that he will not be here with us. We will miss his radiant smile and his fun loving spirit.
We were able to talk with a Brigadier-General Jones who took half a day out of his schedule to be with us, not as a high ranking Army official, but as a friend who knew what it felt like to lose a loved one. He had taken time to communicate with Blake's unit and to accept emails from soldiers that knew and loved Blake. Gen. Jones said is was somewhat unusual for a foot soldier to use the term "love" when referring to a Sergeant, but many of them expressed it. We also found out that Blake carried out his duties to the fullest extent that day. Just hours before his death, the unit ran into a hostile situation and Blake's speed and efficiency in spotting the enemy and calling in artillery fire to suppress the position literally saved many lives in the unit according to the General. That made us even more proud of our soldier/son. However, after that job was taken care of and the guys were walking back toward town, someone detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) that killed our son along with three others. The General also said he may have helped save more than just lives while he was there... for the General talked with some that Blake had shared his testimony with and had led Bible study with and that hopefully he had helped save some souls while there. We and General Jones all had tears in our eyes over that one.
Blake's Platoon Sgt. was on leave when Blake was killed. The Army graciously allowed him to remain stateside an extra 5 days in order to attend the service. So, we were afforded the opportunity to talk with one who worked closely with Blake. Master Sgt. Davis had actually put him into responsible positions of leadership even though he had not had that level of past experience. Master Sgt. Davis said he sincerely was concerned that Blake would not be able to step up and handle the stress of doing an E-6’s job that he had not been trained for, but he said "that boy proved me wrong… he jumped right in and took charge and exceeded my expectations." When he was promoted to E-6 he was ready.
Some of his old unit at Ft. Bragg and 82nd Airborne drove up to be his Honor Guard. All of them were guys that had served with him in Afghanistan and one that had been his roommate for several months. We were able to swap some stories and have a good laugh remembering both the good and the bad situations Blake could get himself into. The support and prayers have been phenomenal. We cannot imagine how anyone who does not have hope and faith in the Lord can survive such an ordeal. But, God has given us the grace and the strength to remain standing faithful to Him.
We are asked constantly if we are angry. No, we are not angry. How can we be upset when our son did what he volunteered to do as a young man of 18? How can we be angry that he advanced and excelled in his chosen profession? How can we be angry that he was a good soldier who honored our God and our Country? We love him immensely and we will miss him as long as we are here on this earth. But, no we are no angry. We are proud. Very, very proud.
STAND DOWN, DEDICATED SOLDIER…YOUR MISSION IS DONE.