PUEBLO — As college and high school graduation season comes to a close, I wanted to highlight the ceremony at Pueblo South high school this year. It happened over the Memorial Day weekend, when we pause to honor and remember those who have died fighting for this country.
This year a Pueblo native and South graduate, who was killed in Iraq in 2007 was the focus of a special tribute from his son, a graduating senior along with another group of special guests.
The commencement had all the trappings of your traditional graduation ceremony, unbridled enthusiasm for these young adults taking that next step in life as well as the pomp and circumstance, the songs, and the speeches.
To kick off the commencement, a moment of silence and the traditional ringing of the bell open the ceremony. The young man ringing the bell was 18-year-old graduating senior, Jonah Harris. His dad, Sergeant Blake Harris was killed in a roadside bombing attack in Iraq in 2007 when Jonah was just two years old.
As Jonah rang the bell those in the graduation hall bowed their heads in a moment of silence to pay tribute to Blake Harris and all of those who have fought and died for this country.
It was a bittersweet occasion for young Jonah and his mom, Joanna. She was so proud of the accomplishment of her son, but the honor brought back memories of sorrow, loss, and anguish.
All those emotions of a young military wife whose husband has been gone now for 16 years. She told me, "Blake did love life, so much and I think even though Blake wasn't around to raise him, he really, Jonah really has that in him he has that love of life in him." And for Jonah, "It was nice to honor him in that way and be honored myself to do it."
But there's another reason this ceremony was so special for Jonah and Joanna Harris. You see a number of Blake's comrades in arms from Iraq who get together every Memorial Day weekend to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice decided this year it's about Blake and Jonah.
William Papp was among about ten fellow Iraq war veterans on hand who served with Blake, "That no matter what, if his dad is not here he still has support from a whole bunch of guys that loved his father like a brother and that's what we'll do for him."
The journey to Pueblo for graduation for this group started at the beginning of Jonah's senior year when his mom put a bug in their ear about attending the graduation to honor the son and the father. They traveled from all over the country, a band of brothers with a bond for life and a commitment to keep memories alive while maintaining a relationship with the wives and children of those we lost.
Michael Sherman another war buddy spoke of their desire to keep Blake's memory alive through his son, "Just show him that we're still his family, so anything he needs he's got, more than enough brothers to take care of him and let Joanna know we're still here to help, help bring him up, if he has questions, anything, problems in life, sometimes you just need that person there to talk to."
And through those conversations, Jonah, who was just two when his dad died says he has learned so much more about his father and turns out he seems to have taken on some of his dad's personality traits, Blake told me, "If morale was low you could just look at him and start smiling right away, and you seeing that in myself a little bit, it's like a man might really be just like him and I never thought about how close him and I were personality-wise before talking to all of them and meeting 'em."
And both Jonah and Joanna told me that Blake, who loved being a father, adored his young son, and would be so proud to see the kind of young man his son has become, "But at the same time it was very heartbreaking knowing that his father didn't see him do this," Joanna says.
By the way, Jonah plans to attend CSU-Pueblo in the fall with financial assistance from gold star family scholarships. Dad's memory lives on in Pueblo through his family and friends and the Sgt. Blake Harris Skateboard Park in the city.