LAWRENCEVILLE, Ill. (WTWO/WAWV) — U.S. Army veteran Jerry Harper never thought he would get a tattoo, but an image of an engineers castle with praying hands and the name Brian Wright is a constant reminder of a painful memory from the war in Iraq.
19-year-old soldier Brian Wright was killed by a roadside bomb. Harper commanded Wright and over 100 Illinois National Guard combat engineer soldiers.
Brian was the only man he lost. The two were close, and the hardest part of Brian’s death was something Brian’s mother told Harper before they left for Iraq.
“I remember his mom said, bring my son home safe, and I told her I would do my best, but we couldn’t do it,” said Harper.
Jerry Harper is from Lawrenceville and after high school he joined the Army. He served 4 years and then continued his service in the National Guard. In all, he served the nation for 21 years including four tours in Iraq.
Good friend Jerome Thacker works with Harper at the Illinois Department of Corrections. Thacker heard stories about Harper’s time in Iraq and said he loves this country.
“If there’s a definition of someone who would lay down his life for the country, it’s Jerry Harper,” said Thacker.
During his time in the military his wife Tina was by his side. Even though it was difficult during his deployments, Tina was focused on making sure Jerry stayed connected in a positive way to things happening back home, especially with his son Garrett and daughter Sydni.
“I just tried to not miss anything and be sure he knew every little detail. You know there’s lots to tell, so I just tried to keep it positive on that side of thing,” said Tina. “I tried to keep it positive.”
Jerry received the Bronze Star which is awarded for heroic deeds during an armed conflict. He looks at it with pride.
“If I had to do it all again, I would without hesitation,” said Harper. “I always smile when they call me that because that’s a good sign of respect, right there.”
The letters BK are boldly displayed on Jerry’s shirt and the same letters can be found on a truck and a side by side that belonged to his son Garrett who was known as “BK.”
Tragically he died from asthma at the age of 21.
“When my son passed it hit me like a ton of bricks almost to the point where the way I felt when Brian died cause I was thinking I’ve lost two boys that are 19 and 21 years old. I love my boy so much that I mean it hurts when I see his picture [or] I see something that reminds me of him,” said Harper.
Jerry and Tina say it’s very hard to deal with such loss. So they stay busy by focusing on their daughter and by keeping in touch with close friends. However, the memories of who they lost are never far away.