Hundreds of McNairy County and Crossroads area residents lined Court Avenue through downtown Selmer, Tenn. this week to pay respects and say goodbye to a 20-year-old U.S Army corporal whose life was cut short.
American flags waved, candles burned, tears flowed and homemade signs could be seen as a community of family, friends, classmates and teammates gave a somber tribute to the late Cpl. Hayden Allen Harris, a young man who was known for his smile, sincere heart and love for people.
McNairy Central High School Golf Coach Jim Merry summed up his thoughts after he watched Tuesday’s homecoming parade of Harris’ return home to McNairy County and Tennessee.
“I know that the time and effort invested in these lives help make young men and women we can all be proud of,” said Merry, Harris’ golf coach at MCHS. “The next couple of days will be very difficult as the family and brothers in his platoon see him to his final resting place. Pray for all who called him ‘Opie,’ son, brother, nephew, cousin, grandchild or just friend. We had an angel among us. We just didn’t know he would be at the gates of Heaven so soon ...”
People lined the streets as far as the eye could see in either direction. People of all ages shivered side-by-side to pay their respects to the American soldier who was killed in a senseless murder last weekend in New Jersey.
Harris was known by most of his friends as “Opie” because of his resemblance to the young, red-headed character on “The Andy Griffith Show.” He graduated from McNairy Central in 2018 and joined the Army in 2019.
Merry said he stood breathless as the motorcade arrived and realized his golf teammate Johnathan Cox drove the hearse from Memphis to the funeral home in Selmer. There were 21 law enforcement vehicles that escorted Harris home from Memphis, about 90 miles east of Selmer. The line of emergency blue and red flashing lights included patrol cars, fire engines, motorcycles driven by veterans, EMS vehicles and Jeeps that only wanted to ensure Harris got back to his home county with a show of support to his family and in his memory.
Misti Gray, a viewer of the parade of cars, eloquently said, “We stood in silent unity, united in love, respect, sorrow and heartbreak. I have never seen or felt anything quite like it. Cpl. Hayden Harris is home.”
“When the blue lights pulled into sight, it was complete silence other than the sound of the vehicles passing through town,” said LeAnne Gray, one of the hundred who came on a cold night to honor a fallen hero. “I have never been so touched by a moment or so proud to be a part of a small town coming together. My heart again broke into a million pieces as they drove past. Prayers for the Harris family. RIP soldier.”
For one night in McNairy County, no one was thinking of COVID-19 or the daily political battles. They were thinking of a red-haired, freckled face young man who volunteered to serve his country in the Army, agreed many friends who witnessed the memorial parade.
Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at Oakland Baptist Church in Corinth. Burial will follow in Henry Cemetery in Corinth.
A native of Guys, Tenn., he was the son of Reggie and Christy Harris.
He had completed Army air assault training and was looking forward to sniper training in January.
Services for Harris will be live streamed at oakland baptist.org
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to: Byram Township Fire Department, PO Box 361, Andover NJ 07821 or woundedwarrior project.org/donate.