Following a 21-gun salute Wednesday at Fort Logan National Cemetery, a Marine took the American flag off Larry Donell Harris Jr.'s silver casket, folded it and placed it on the lap of his weeping wife.

Sniffles from some of the many friends and family members who drove nearly an hour from the 24-year-old Marine corporal's memorial to the cemetery could be heard during the traditional playing of “Taps.” And while there were plenty of tissues and tears to go around Wednesday, there was also a lot of singing, laughing and signs of appreciation.

“Our hearts are full of anguish, but we are here to celebrate,” said the Rev. Lamont Jackson of Hammond, La. “He is going home, so it's a celebration. There is joy mixed with my tears.”

Hundreds gathered Wednesday at Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Denver and then at the Fort Logan cemetery to honor Harris, a Boulder High graduate who died July 1 in the Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Among the packed crowd were more than 15 members of the Boulder County Sheriff's Office, where Harris served in the cadet program. Longmont's Rick and Debra Anderson, who lost their son, Chris Anderson, in Iraq nearly four years ago, also attended.

Before the U.S. Marine Corps presented Harris with the Purple Heart for his service, the Rev. Jules E. Smith comforted mourners by reminding them that freedom is costly and Harris chose to put himself in harms way.

“No one took Cpl. Harris' life,” Smith said. “He laid down his life for our freedom. And today we celebrate that he gave his life for his friends, country and family. He is our hero.”

Harris, who was an involved member of the Boulder High community before joining the military in 2006, was engaged in heavy fighting in Afghanistan on July 1 when one of his corpsmen became injured, Smith said. Harris picked up the young man and carried him out of harm's way, he said.
Cpl Larry Harris Jr. with his wife Stacia Harris
Cpl Larry Harris Jr. with his wife Stacia Harris ( COURTESY 9 NEWS Rene B Wilkinson )


“In doing so, he put himself in harm's way and tripped over” an improvised explosive device, Smith said, adding that Harris was the type of man who would make that sacrifice. “You are not remembered for those who serve you, you are remembered for those you serve. If you want to be a hero, serve.”

Harris' mother, Lora A. Merriweather said that her son would want everyone to celebrate his life and to “do it big.” So, even though she confessed to being shy and unlikely to speak in public, she decided to sing in honor of her son.

“The sky shall unfold, preparing his entrance,” Merriweather belted out to affirming “amens” from the audience. “And the stars shall applaud him with thunderous praise.”

Following Merriweather's song, friend Jamal Ward shook his head and said, “That leads you to know where he got his strength from.”

Harris' wife, Stacia Harris, didn't speak at the memorial, but instead had her father read a letter to her husband.

“Hi Milk Dud. Of the hundreds of letters I've written you, this will easily be the most difficult,” Ralph Montgomery read. “You deserve so much more than words.”

In her letter, Harris thanked her husband for his sacrifice and for his selflessness. She thanked him for staying up all night on the phone with her and for letting her sleep through movie nights.

“Thank you for teaching me that there is no bad day that a few minutes dancing to Michael Jackson can't fix,” she said in her letter. “And don't worry about me. Rest peacefully in the arms of our mighty savior, and I'll be here missing you and loving you every day.”

Harris wrote that she has never said “goodbye” to her husband before, and she doesn't plan to start now. Instead, she ended her letter the way she ends every letter to Harris.

“Always and forever, your Pixie.”

Contact Vanessa Miller about this story at (303) 473-1329 or millerv@dailycamera.com.