Monday, July 16, 2007

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Marine Capt. Jennifer J. Harris never attracted special attention for being a woman throughout her career at the Naval Academy and in the Marine Corps.

So it was appropriate, friends said, that she was not singled out in death, when the academy put her name this month among hundreds of others on a marble tablet that honors graduates killed in action.

She is the second woman in school history to be added to the list, which includes 954 men dating to the Civil War. The first woman, Maj. Megan M. McClung, died in combat in December.

Women were allowed in the academy 31 years ago, but only recently have they served in combat.

“One of the original objections to women serving in the military was that the country couldn’t handle women dying in combat,” said Lisa Stolle, a 1981 academy graduate, told the Baltimore Sun.

Memorial Hall — known as the academy’s “sanctum sanctorum” or “holy of holies” — is the first stop for alumni who come to Annapolis. Midshipmen sometimes go there to ponder what the future holds for them and consider the sacrifices “of those who went before.” Plebes, or incoming freshmen, are not allowed to enter the room until they undergo orientation from upperclassmen about what it means.

The hall is located at the heart of the academy at the entrance to the Bancroft Hall dormitory, up a granite staircase in a domed room filled with busts of admirals and paintings of naval battles. A marble panel for each class lists each fallen comrade, whether a combat death or an accident while on active duty.

The “Killed in Action” tablet is the centerpiece, behind a glass case under a likeness of the blue standard flown in 1813 by a beleaguered commodore, urging his sailors: “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP.”

The Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation, with private funds, maintains the panels and updates them every six months, using official descriptions from the Pentagon to determine who will be added to the “KIAs.”

Most of those on the list were killed during World War II, many during the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Guadalcanal campaign. Most were junior officers serving as Marines or naval aviators, killed shortly after they left the academy.

There are 12 names under “Global War on Terrorism.”

Without fanfare earlier this month, a craftsman added Capt. Harris’ name and that of two others — 1st Lt. Travis J. Manion and Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec.

Lt. Rose Goscinski was Capt. Harris’ roommate at the academy. She called her a gregarious person of exceptional generosity, who urged classmates to attend Lt. Goscinski’s plays or acted as social coordinator for a tight-knit group of friends.

“She made events and things you were involved with really special,” Lt. Goscinski said. “She showed she cared about you and made time for you. You could go to her with anything, and she would drop everything she was doing and sit there and listen to you.”

Capt. Harris never thought much about how she fit in as a woman at the academy or in the Marine Corps; she just wanted to fly and to do well by her fellow Marines, Lt. Goscinski said.

Capt. Harris, 28, was a weapons-and-tactics instructor on her third tour in Iraq. The CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter that she was piloting was shot down Feb. 7 while bringing an emergency supply of blood to Fallujah.

Lt. Goscinski said she will probably be taken aback seeing Capt. Harris’ name in Memorial Hall because it is someone she knew so well, not because it stands out among so many men.

“It’s sort of a beautiful, reverent place,” she said. “It has its own character and feel, with all the people on the wall who symbolize all the academy represents and what our country stands for. You can memorialize all the people that have died, and you walk around and know they didn’t die in vain and realize that their spirit still lives on because people can go in there and remember them.

“I’m sure that when I see the name I’ll feel the same way I do when I think about her almost every day.”

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