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Father of fallen Swampscott Marine carries her memory with him

Raymond Harris holds photos of his late wife, Rosalie, and his late daughter, Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris, who was killed in action in Iraq. (Owen O'Rourke)

SWAMPSCOTT — They were all supposed to come home that day.

That’s what Raymond Harris said as he reminisced about his daughter, Marine Capt. Jennifer Harris, who was killed in action 12 years ago.

She was one of seven people who died on Feb. 7, 2007, after the CH-46 Sea Knight Helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq. The Swampscott native, who was on her third tour, was 28 years old.

Harris, 74, said his daughter and her fellow Marines were on their way to recover the bodies of their comrades who were killed. A machine gun fired into the front of the helicopter, followed by a rocket that flew up and hit the back of it.

Harris and his late wife, Rosalie, watched it unfold live on television, but they didn’t know it was their daughter. Not long after the news broadcast, a van pulled into their Elwin Street driveway and three uniformed men knocked on the door. That’s when they knew their Jennifer was gone, he said.

“It’s tough for me every Memorial Day and sometimes I don’t even want to go to the Monday services because it brings back so many memories,” he said. “It’s going to take a long, long, long time before I stop grieving.”

The holiday has become even harder for Harris since his wife died three years ago, after a 32-year battle with multiple sclerosis. He said it’s hard being alone, but he is grateful for his neighbors who have gone above and beyond for him.

“Swampscott has done so much for me,” he said.

When their only daughter was killed, he said neighbors covered the front of his home in flags. To further honor Jennifer, town officials placed a plaque and stone at the corner of Foster Road and Windsor Avenue, a short distance from the Harris home.

When Rosalie needed a wheelchair ramp, Harris said his neighbors made it happen. When his front lawn needs yard work, it gets done before he even goes outside.

“I may have lost my family, but this town and this neighborhood are my family now,” he said.

The feeling of loss didn’t just hover over Swampscott, he said, it was felt all over the world. A year or two after her death, Harris said he and his wife were visited by an artist who flew all the way from Germany, bearing a wrapped gift.

They opened it and saw a framed sketch of their daughter, poised in her uniform. Harris said he and his wife fell to the floor in tears.

“We fell apart completely,” Harris said. “We were so amazed that her story traveled all around the world.”

Harris said the last words he heard from his daughter were just before New Year’s Eve in 2006. She told him she was leaving for Iraq in the second week of January and would be back to see him in February.

“It didn’t work out that way,” he said.

More than a decade of attending veterans’ services and memorials on behalf of the renowned respect for Jennifer, Harris said people always ask him whether or not he gets sick of attending them. While it may not be easy, he said he will do anything for his daughter.

“I go to the cemetery every single day and talk to Rosie and Jen for 20 minutes like a fool,” Harris said. “But, I don’t care. Rain, sun, or snow, whatever it is, I’m there.”

 

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