By Bob Uphues
Drive by the Brookfield VFW post on Ogden Avenue and you might notice it has a new sign. That in itself wouldn't be notable, but for the fact that the sign bears a new name.
On Sunday, May 24, the post officially was re-dedicated as the Joshua Harris Brookfield Memorial Post #2868 in honor of the 21-year-old Brookfield resident who was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 17, 2008.
"Every year it just sinks in more and more," said Harris' stepmom, Jean Harris, who attended the May 24 ceremony at the VFW Hall with her husband, Bill Harris, who is Joshua's father.
The Harrises were joined by members of the VFW post, members of Joshua Harris' U.S. Army field artillery battalion and others who came to mark the occasion, held the day before Memorial Day.
"There are so many mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sister and brothers. All have a deeper meaning of what Memorial Day really is," Jean Harris said. "It's not the beginning of summer. It's hard to get that across."
Joshua Harris, 21, volunteered for the U.S. Army National Guard while he was still in high school. The Walther Lutheran High School graduate was in Afghanistan for just a few weeks when he and three other soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED).
David Kivi, a Brookfield resident who was the commander of the Brookfield VFW post at that time, said he was at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park for Harris' burial, an event that had a profound effect on him.
"I had never seen military honors like that before," said Kivi. "And it occurred to me that Josh was the same age as my youngest son."
Kivi had been mulling whether to approach post officials about formally changing the name in Harris' memory. The Brookfield VFW post, which was established in 1933, had never been a memorial post, despite Brookfield residents fighting and dying in every major conflict prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The post has been located at 8844 Ogden Ave. since the 1950s.
Brookfield's American Legion Post, on the other hand, has been a memorial post since 1918, when it was named in honor of the first Brookfield soldier killed during World War I, Edward Feely.
In January, Kivi finally made a formal request and his colleagues at the post agreed to move forward with the idea.
According to Jean Harris, her son looked up to the Vietnam-era veterans at the post and considered them mentors. She said he didn't like the way Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned home from overseas and he wanted to make sure that didn't happen again.
Following Joshua's death, the VFW post reached out to the Harris family and helped them organize meetings for Gold Star families, who suffered similar losses.
"They've been unbelievably gracious, patriotic, caring individuals," Jean Harris said.
It also meant a lot for members of Joshua's battalion to be present at the dedication ceremony on May 24. The soldiers gave the post the unit's guidon, or flag, to display.
"It was important for us that they be there," she said. "I'm glad he was honored by his brothers and mentors."
Inside the canteen, the post has also prominently displayed a shadow box containing a picture of Joshua Harris along with his medals, including his Purple Heart.