Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scott "Boots" Harper

When I looked out into my classroom, for the 33 years I taught in the public school system, at the faces of the students I taught, I never imagined the unhappiness they might encounter or the tragedies they might suffer; instead, I thought of  the ways they might be successful and happy -- the careers they would have, their marriages, the children they would raise, and the full lives as productive and literate citizens they would lead.

From 1976 to 1985, the wonder years, I suppose, I taught English at Douglas County High School in Douglasville, Georgia.  Douglasville lies twenty- five miles west of Atlanta, and in those waning years of the 1970s, still existed as a small town.

In D’ville as they fondly referred to it, everyone either knew each other, was related to him or her, or they attended the same church, same elementary school, or shared a deer stand.  That small.

During the high school’s homecoming week, the police helped block off the streets for the parade on a weekday, the whole town showed up for the high school football game, and in the outlying areas, a good hard rain shut down the school system when the busses couldn’t make traction on those rural county roads.

Small town.

The backgrounds of the students varied, but there was a solidity about their loyalty to the town's Douglas County Tigers and the high school they attended.

The students I taught there -- all in the 40s, maybe some in their early 50s now,  were fine young people in spite of their vernacular -- "tar" for tire, "what fur" for what for, and “mommer and ‘em” for their parents.


One of those students whom I taught and remember fondly is Brian Harper, class of 1983. He sat in my ninth grade class, impervious to grammar and reading, but his wit and personality won me over. I didn’t care if he “didn’t like English.“

We established a relationship, and for the next three years, he chose as his elective to be what was called a “student aide” in my classroom. [a course you could take numerous times for credit].

A “student aide” ran errands, collated papers, emptied the shavings from the pencil sharpener, smacked erasers, or in my case, ran to the cafeteria to fetch me a “sweet tea.“ Brian and I were crazy about each other, and when I left Douglas County for another school system, he had graduated, gotten married, and become a father; we lost touch.

Until October of 2011.

I received an email from a former colleague at Douglas County; he wrote that a Scott Daniel Harper from Douglasville had been killed in Afghanistan, and he was pretty sure that this was Brian’s son. {this colleague and I had a mutual admiration for Brian.}

My heart ached at the thought, but as I looked up the information on the internet, saw a picture of the young man, and read the obituary -- I knew it was Brian’s son. Scott’s eyes were Brian’s eyes.

Out of touch with Brian for so many years, I decided to write him a note and tell him that I had heard about his son’s death and to let him know that I was thinking of him. I included in the note my email address in case he wished to get in touch with me. Brian did.

As soon as we talked on the phone yesterday, the twenty nine years between disappeared.  He didn’t know what had happened to me, and I hadn’t known what had happened to him -- until he suffered this so public of a tragedy.

As we talked, we laughed, we reminisced, and then Brian talked about the son he lost in Afghanistan. For that, we shed tears.

As Scott “Boots” Harper was brought home to Douglasville, the no longer “small town” came to the streets and stood, waved flags, and saluted as the black hearse passed. The procession for Scott was over a mile long.

If you have time, and you should take it, watch this video of the procession that was done in honor of Scott’s sacrifice for his country. My heart welled.

Watch this for Scott.

Watch this for Brian.


  1. So, so sad, particularly when you think of the thousands of families who have experienced this same pain. We owe a debt we can never repay to Scott's family. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading -- :)

      You and I both have hearts for the military with our close family ties to enlisted men.

  2. Harriett,

    Thank you so much for this post. I read, I watched, and I cried.

    1. You know this pain of the loss of a son all too well, my friend, all too well.


  3. What a touching tribute to your friend and of his son....I will have to watch the video at home, lest the tears start flowing here at work. Thank you in advance for honoring them! Lori

  4. Beautiful..Harriett. I know Brian is proud of his son and thankful to you for this awesome tribute. I am at work and it did make me cry.

  5. Thank you for a very nice tribute to Boots. I grew up in and around Douglas County most of my childhood. While I did not know Boots personally several of my family members did. And I feel like I know him now through hearing all the nice things my family members have told me and through watching all the tributes for him. No words will ever say how grateful I am for the sacrifice Scott and all our other Service Men and Women, have made for All of Our Freedom. It is so true that "Our Freedom Don't Come Free"

  6. I couldn't finish the video because it was so sad. I'm thinking of your former student, though, and his son, and their family, and all the American and Afghani families who are going through these tragedies. I can't imagine losing a child.

  7. This is so touching. I am so thankful for all of our troops and my heart breaks for the family.

  8. What an amazing town and an amazing tribute.