Kunsan community remembers airman
KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The smallest of details invoked the most emotion Monday as members of the tight-knit community on this remote Air Force base gathered to memorialize a fallen comrade.
Airmen wept visibly, some breaking into sobs, as friends and co-workers talked about Senior Airman Marschelle Harris’ faith in God, love of life and her ability to befriend anyone she met.
But they smiled broadly, and even laughed, as they spoke of how “every song on the radio,” belonged to her, how she would break into dance in the middle of the warehouse where she worked, and about her inner strength.
“You need to mourn and you need to celebrate,” her life, base commander Col. Jerry Harris Jr. said of the 22-year-old airman, who died Nov. 12 of an acute illness following a nearly two-week stay in a South Korean hospital.
Harris served at Kunsan since June as a logistical technician with the 8th Medical Group’s Medical Support Squadron.
Her commander, Lt. Col. Robert Edward Jr., said the Valdosta, Ga., native was part of her high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program and “got hooked.”
He said some might be left searching for a meaning or purpose in the tragedy.
Edward instead challenged those that knew her to incorporate her best qualities into their own lives.
“Use her memory to inspire you to do your very best,” he said.
Her supervisor, Staff Sgt. Juan Gomez, spoke to her the Sunday night before she died. He said he was sure he would see her back at work that week.
“My heart aches now,” he said.
Fourteen members of Joyful Noise, a religious choir group Harris belonged to, sang a song in her memory and played a video that Harris brainstormed and starred in.
In the video, Harris performs a dramatic dance to symbolize the many trials people could face during their lifetimes, from drug use to alcoholism to suicide.
As she danced with unidentified airman dressed in a robe symbolizing her faith, other characters tempted her away from him. Throughout the nearly five-minute video, she sank lower, eventually dancing with an airman dressed as death, who attempted to get her to commit suicide.
Harris battles back, physically fighting off the personal demons until she’s again united with her faith.
Tears flowed freely as the show came to an end, the then vibrant and laughing young woman hugging and celebrating with her friends as the video paused.
And it was Kunsan’s Chief Master Sgt. Cathy Johnson who summed up what many likely felt as they filed from the auditorium.
“You have earned the right to rest,” she said of Harris.