Harrisburg rallies in honor of fallen soldier and family

Jun 8, 2010

The end of May marked a deadly milestone in the war in Afghanistan: 1,000 soldier deaths among the allied troops stationed there. One of those was Specialist Christopher Barton of Harrisburg, a 22-year-old paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. He was killed on May 24, when insurgents attacked his unit. Over the weekend Specialist Barton was laid to rest. In partnership with the Concord/Kannapolis Independent Tribune, Ben McNeely reports. The town of Harrisburg is known for its large and festive July Fourth parades. But last week, the American flags that hung from every light pole were for a different reason: To welcome home a fallen soldier. About 125 motorcycles escorted the body of Spec. Chris Barton through the streets of Harrisburg as hundreds of people lined the streets to pay their respects. "Our first thing is . . . to ensure that they get the respect they deserve," said Ronnie Faggart, the state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders. They're a motorcycle group who take it upon themselves to assist the families of fallen service men and women. All activity in Harrisburg stopped for a moment as Barton and his family made their way to his funeral. Spec. Barton was like any 20-year-old when he joined the army in 2008. He didn't quite know what he wanted to do, but he knew he wanted to help people. He volunteered for the infantry and joined the Special Forces, becoming a paratrooper attached with the 101st Airborne Division - the same unit that parachuted into Normandy on D-Day 66 years ago. Chris could have done less dangerous jobs in the army, his family says, but he joined the infantry because, as he said, "Somebody has got to do it." At the funeral, a military attache' presented Chris' family with the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. "No greater honor can be demonstrated by his ultimate sacrifice and he will be forever remembered for his actions," the citation read. Chris' wife, Heather Godwin Barton, sat on the front row, weeping softly, as family friend Meg Haskins remembered the soldier. She talked about Chris' love for Heather. "Chris wasn't afraid to be sappy," said Haskins. "Their love was an inspiration, full of passion, and a fairy-tale romance that every girl dreams about. He had the body and the spirit of Spartan warrior and the sensitivity of that divine grace and passion. As I told Heather, he had the whole package." Chris and Heather were friends in the same neighborhood in Harrisburg, where everybody knows everybody. Heather says he was scared to ask her out, but by Christmas 2008, they were dating. Chris proposed to Heather on July 4th of last year, and they were married last October, in a small ceremony with only immediate family. Chris was supposed to come home on leave on June 15. He and Heather were planning a proper wedding ceremony this year. Now, at age 19, Heather is a war widow. People lined the road again as Chris, accompanied by his wife, headed to the cemetery. They held American flags and circled the cemetery, too. Heather was touched by the community support, and by the 21-gun salute for her husband. "The gun shots, that's what got me," said Heather. "And then when they handed me the flag, that's when I let it all out. It was hard, but it was very wonderful at the same time." As much as the family is grieving, Chris' mom, Elaine Schmiedeshoff says she is also concerned for his buddies still in Afghanistan. "I think they are kind of scared - more so now than they were," says Shmiedeshoff. "Right now, I'm just kind of driven to help them. I think that's where I'm going to focus my energy right now. We'll work on our healing, and we'll help them heal." She'll start by sending them photos of the hundreds of people who lined the roads in honor of Chris. She wants the soldiers to see just how much people support them back home. You can read more about Specialist Chris Barton at the Independent Tribune's website, http://www2.independenttribune.com/home/