BLAIRSVILLE – Hundreds of people openly wept at yesterday’s funeral of a young soldier remembered as a “standing
Pfc. Richard W. Hafer, 21, of Nitro, W.Va., formerly of New Florence, was remembered as a Laurel Valley High School
football and wrestling standout, and as a man whose only desire was to watch over his loved ones.
A large portrait of the smiling, muscular defensive end wearing No. 70 stood on the church altar near the casket,
draped with the American flag.
Mourners wore matching white T-shirts emblazoned with the dates of Hafer’s birth and death – and the
words “All gave some, some gave all.”
Hafer died Nov. 15 in Mosul, Iraq, when two Black Hawk helicopters collided – some say under hostile fire –
in the deadliest single incident since the Iraq war began eight months ago. Hafer was the first native of Greater Johnstown
to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He served with the U.S. Army, Company C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division,
Air Assault. Hafer joined the Army on Aug. 15, 2002, to keep in shape so that he could pursue his dream of playing college
Sgt. Teddy Lawrence, Hafer’s immediate supervisor and best friend, spoke at services held here at First United
Methodist Church, 50 S. Walnut St., after being flown in from Iraq just days ago.
Lawrence, of Arkansas, met Hafer at advanced training in Oklahoma. The two became fast friends.
“The day the accident happened, I told Rick to be careful,” Lawrence said to the congregation. “He
told me not to worry, he’d see me in a couple of hours.”
Lawrence said Hafer’s 6-foot-4, 250-pound body
helped him fulfill his desire “to take care of everybody else.
“He was a big guy,” Lawrence said. “Now he can be above us, watching over us and protecting us
Lawrence told the family he didn’t think of Hafer as a “fallen hero.
“I think he was a standing hero,” he said, his voice breaking intermittently throughout the eulogy. “Rick
is still standing in everyone’s thoughts and minds.”
Hafer’s sense of duty toward his family will continue
through Lawrence: “I made a promise to Rick that I would do my best to uphold everything he stood for. And I’ll
always be there for you, no matter what.”
Maj. Gen. James Grazioplene, who is stationed at the Pentagon in Washington, said Hafer’s dedication to serving
his country stemmed from lessons learned from his parents and coaches.
“He was coached to high standards of discipline, leadership, teamwork, duty, respect, personal courage and
loyalty,” Grazioplene said at the funeral. “Rick showed great ability to endure hardships with an unquenchable
Grazioplene said Hafer had a profound effect on his fellow soldiers in the short time he had been in the Army, and
was a young soldier who lived life to the fullest.
“Rick had an incredible amount of potential to do something great
in his life,” Grazioplene said.
Hafer’s family was presented with his bronze star and Purple Heart. They were also informed at the funeral
that Hafer had been promoted to the rank of specialist in addition to his honors.
“Rick’s loss will be profoundly felt by his comrades,” Grazioplene told Hafer’s family. “His
ultimate sacrifice was to defend our freedom.”
Hafer came from a “great family military record,” Grazioplene said in an interview after the interment.
His father, Richard G. Hafer, served eight years in the Army and an uncle served and was wounded in Vietnam.
Hafer’s grandfather served in both the Marines and Air Force, and his great-grandfather was killed in action
in World War II.
“You just get compelled by the bravery of these young people,” Grazioplene said afterward. “They
just show wonderful fortitude and bravery.”
Grazioplene said he would be traveling to Minnesota afterward to speak at a funeral for another soldier in Hafer’s
“You don’t like to go to these (funerals),” Grazioplene said. “But it gives me the opportunity
to see where these brave young men and women have grown up, to meet their family, friends and mentors.”
“It makes you proud to be an American.”
Since operations began in Iraq, 297 U.S. service members have died of hostile action. That includes 183 since May
1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat.
Hafer’s family requests memorial donations be made to No. 70 Rick Hafer Football Scholarship Fund, c/o Laurel
Valley High School, 114 Education Lane, New Florence, Pa. 15944.