On a cloudless, warm June morning, nearly 200 people packed St. Catharine Church in Spring Lake to pay their respects to Army Sgt. James Harvey II, who was killed in action in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan on June 20.
Harvey was a 2005 Arthur L. Johnson graduate and lived on Conger Way in Clark after moving from Union with his parents and three older sisters – Christine, 35, Robin, 29, and Tracey, 25. (The Harveys moved to Toms River in 2007.) He enlisted in the Army in January 2009 and was deployed to Afghanistan in January of this year. Harvey was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Knox, Kentucky.
The roar of motorcycles signaled Harvey's approach, as dozens of members of the Toms River American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard Riders escorted the hearse. Liz Smith, a captain within the Patriot Guard Riders, when commended for the group's display of honor, said "It's our honor to be here." Smith was reluctant to count how many services she's attended with the PGR, saying simply, "Too many." The national organization provides accompaniment to all military funerals at the invitation of the deceased's family.
During the traditional funeral mass, Msgr. Thomas A. Luebking asked mourners to reflect on a particularly appropriate line from the scripture reading, John 15:13: "There is no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
As the mass was near over, Harvey's father James mustered the courage to speak, reading a letter Harvey himself had written in the event of his death. His voice trembling, James Harvey read his son's words to those gathered:
"I would like to begin by saying thanking you all for coming and supporting me in everything I have done. Some great and some not so much. Don't be angry with the army. I did this by choice and loved every day. My job fit me and I excelled at it. I did not die alone. I am with brothers-in-arms and I trust them and they trusted me. I died fighting for my country and there is no greater honor. Anyone who knows who I am, knows that I didn't go without a fight. I loved my life and lived every day as if it was my last. I don't regret anything I did. I had a blast. Every day was an adventure. So let's not mourn my death. Celebrate my life. I am in a better place and still having a blast.
With love, James Harvey"
Mourners processed to St. Anne's Cemetery in Spring Lake, where Harvey received full military honors, including a flag folding and presentation, 21-gun salute, a bugler playing "Taps," and a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace."
Harvey was posthumously promoted to sergeant and was awarded the Bronze Star medal, the Army Commendation Medal for valor, Global War on Terrorism medal, Afghan Campaign medal, NATO ribbon, Good Conduct medal and the Purple Heart.