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Cleveland post office named for fallen soldier

POSTED: October 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Emily Harkins, widow of Sgt. Jason Harkins, wipes away a tear Sunday during the ceremony naming the Cleveland post office in honor of Sgt. Harkins.

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CLEVELAND - The wall of the Cleveland post office now bears the name of Sgt. Jason Robert Harkins, who was killed in Iraq in 2007.

Loved ones, community leaders and politicians honored Harkins with a ceremony in front of the building at 116 Helen Highway. Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that attends services honoring fallen warriors, encircled the ceremony bearing American flags.

Speaker after speaker talked of Harkins' heroism during battle. His mother, Nancy Fritchey, wore her son's Purple Heart and Bronze Star and Silver Star medals.

"You have produced someone who, in the flash of an eye, can cause heroic things to occur," U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, said to a large audience. "I think it is altogether proper that we recognize this young man and the sacrifice he has made by this dedication ceremony."

Harkins was a member of the U.S. Army, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division of Fort Lewis, Wash.

While serving his second tour of duty in Iraq, Harkins, 25, was killed on May 6, 2007, by a roadside bomb, along with five other members of his platoon, during combat operations in Baqouba, Iraq.

Deal introduced the resolution honoring Harkins, a 1999 graduate of Habersham Central High School.

The House then voted to name the 20-year-old post office after him, followed by passage in the U.S. Senate and President Bush's signature.

The effort to rename the Cleveland post office was endorsed in letters from Cleveland Mayor Donald Stanley and the members of the White County Board of Commissioners.

Local politicians also attended Sunday's ceremony, as did U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

"It's an honor for me to be here as part of this ceremony," Isakson said. "... Today, we name a monument for a great American ... but every day, we thank God for the gift he has given to us, the freedom of the people of the United States of America."

Harkins' pastor, the Rev. Alan Morris of Concord Baptist Church in Clermont, said he believed Harkins had long wanted to be a soldier.

"He had been playing army since he learned to walk," he said. "First toy he ever had and only toy he wanted to have was a gun or a rifle. And if he didn't have one, he would make one out of a stick."

Morris said he and Harkins e-mailed several times.

"I would say, ‘You're my hero.' He'd write back and say, ‘Oh please, don't call me hero. I don't like that. We just have a job to do, and we're doing it.' That's what you guys all say, and I appreciate that, but you're heroes. That's what you are to us."

Deal presented a framed copy of the legislative act naming the post office to Harkins' tearful family.

The soldier's father, Bob Harkins, of Cleveland thanked the community for its support after his son's death, including through cards, flowers, food and "other numerous acts of kindness."

"It's truly an honor to have Jason come from a community like this," he said.

"Every soldier who goes into battle takes part of his community with him - his school, his church, his family, his friends. We want you to know you did a fine job."



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