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David J. Hart, a Local Soldier Killed in Iraq, Returns Home

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

David J. Hart, of Lake View Terrace, died in Balad of wounds suffered in a firefight with insurgents Jan. 8 in Samarra, north of Baghdad. He was 22.

David J. Hart, a Loc...
army_sgt._david_j._hart.jpg, image/jpeg, 322x425

From the Los Angeles Times

A soldier's final homecoming

In a somber ceremony, a military honor guard escorts the body of an Army sergeant killed in Iraq off a plane at Long Beach Airport.

By Paloma Esquivel

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 16, 2008

They stood on a small landing strip for private aircraft at Long Beach Airport. A mother and father, a wife, family and friends. They gathered for the arrival of the body of Army Sgt. David J. Hart, who was killed in combat in Iraq.

There were no speeches, no eulogy. Those will come later. On Tuesday afternoon, there was only the quiet, methodical ceremony of a soldier's final homecoming.

Framed by a clear blue sky, eight members of a military honor guard stood at attention, waiting for a small charter airplane. The group's leaders walked down the line, adjusting hats to sit just so, wiping away the faintest smudge. To their right, police officers and sheriff's deputies stood, hands behind their backs, waiting to lead Hart's casket in a procession from the airport to a Boyle Heights crematory.

Just before the aircraft made its final stop, 47 members of the veterans group Patriot Guard Riders filed out of a terminal reception room and fanned out, forming a long line with fluttering American flags.

Across the way, a group of airport workers in faded gray uniforms left their jobs when they saw what was happening and stood quietly observing, at attention in their own way. Even air traffic seemed to abate as everyone waited in silence.

Hart, of Lake View Terrace, died in Balad of wounds suffered in a firefight with insurgents Jan. 8 in Samarra, north of Baghdad. He was 22.

Two other soldiers also were killed: Pfc. Ivan E. Merlo, 19, of San Marcos, Calif., and Pfc. Phillip J. Pannier, 20, of Washburn, Ill.

They were all assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Hart's family and friends waited just outside the terminal door. His mother, Sheri, stood with her arms wrapped around his widow, Nicole, quietly whispering words of consolation. They watched as the plane pulled up and its door opened.

Army Spc. Richard Gilbert, who served with Hart in Iraq and who escorted his body home, walked out of the plane and stood at attention nearby.

The honor guard's leader whispered instructions to other members, who quietly made their way, marching in lock-step to the plane, where they lowered the flag-draped casket onto a stand.

Arm-in-arm, Hart's widow and mother made their way up. They hesitated for a minute, and then Nicole draped herself over the wooden casket. Her mother-in-law held her.

Soon, they were joined by the rest of the family -- Hart's father, Jack; brother, Daniel; sister, Sarah; and his in-laws, Ruth and Ramiro Gonzalez, and their son, Ramiro Jr. Each of them laid a hand on the casket, every once in a while whispering words to each other. They did not let go until the driver of the hearse gently said it was time to go.

The honor guard, whose members had been waiting quietly at attention, made its way again to the casket and carried it to the hearse.

The last soldier in line closed the door softly. She saluted and whispered final instructions to her group before it marched away. The click-clack of dress shoes on the pavement was the only sound.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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Honor Guard

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Honor Guard...
hart_1.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x300

Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A military honor guard carries the casket past Jack Hart, left, the slain soldier's father, and Nicole Hart, his widow.

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Family Gathers

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Family Gathers...
the_family_of_sgt._david_hart.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x350

The family of Sgt. David Hart gathers around his widow, Nicole, second from left, as the soldier's remains are returned from Iraq to Long Beach Airport.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Honor Guard Prepares

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Honor Guard Prepares...
members_of_the_california_state_honor_guard.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x298

Members of the California State Honor Guard prepare to receive the casket of Sgt. David Hart of Lake View Terrace.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Family Members Grieve

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Family Members Griev...
family_members_grieve_as_the_sergeant__s_remains_arrive.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x350

Family members grieve as the sergeant's remains arrive.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Airplane Taxis

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Airplane Taxis...
an_airplane_carrying_the_remains_of_sgt._david_hart_taxis.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x332

An airplane carrying the remains of Sgt. David Hart taxis beneath a snowcapped Mount Baldy.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Nicole Hart Embraces Spc. Richard Gilbert

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Nicole Hart Embraces...
nicole_hart_embraces_spc._richard_gilbert.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x350

Nicole Hart embraces Spc. Richard Gilbert, who served with Sgt. David Hart in Iraq and accompanied his remains home.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Nicole Hart Leans on the Casket of Her Husband

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Nicole Hart Leans on...
nicole_hart_leans_on_the_casket_of_her_husband.jpg, image/jpeg, 458x400

Nicole Hart leans on the casket of her husband as the soldier's mother, Sheri Hart, comforts her.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Hart's Family Gathers

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Hart's Family Gather...
hart__s_family_gathers_around_his_casket.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x350

Hart's family gathers around his casket.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Honor Guard

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Honor Guard...
a_military_honor_guard.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x350

A military honor guard carries the casket past Jack Hart, left, the slain soldier's father, and Nicole Hart, his widow.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Casket Carried

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Casket Carried...
hart__s_casket_is_carried_toward_the_hearse.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x350

Hart's casket is carried toward the hearse.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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Patriot Guard Riders Escort

by DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Patriot Guard Riders...
patriot_guard_riders.jpg, image/jpeg, 500x350

Members of the veterans group Patriot Guard Riders escort the hearse away from the airport.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 3 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
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Soldier Might Have Been Killed by Friendly Fire DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 2:11 PM
Gov. Schwarzenegger Issues Statement DJ Friday, Jan. 18, 2008 at 7:51 PM
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