Skip to content
Hundreds bid farewell to 'hero'
When an Army officer came to his home in West Penn Township and told him his daughter, Jennifer, an Army sergeant, was missing in Iraq and presumed dead, David Hartman quickly called her cell phone.
Jennifer Hartman's phone only had 25 minutes of pre-paid time left.
"I was just praying to God to hear her voice: "Pick up, pick up, please pick up,"' said David Hartman.
David Hartman kept calling. "Then, there were no more minutes left," he said.
His daughter, his first-born, his smart, strong-willed, dirt- bike-riding, four-wheeling buddy, the young woman who savored life to its fullest, died on Sept. 14 when a suicide truck bomber attacked her barracks, killing Hartman and two other soldiers and wounding 30 others.
She turned 21 in May.
On Saturday, the Hartman family -- her father, her mother Bernice, brother Brian and sister Katie -- said goodbye with a funeral service that drew hundreds of people and at least 100 bikers -- including the Patriot Guard Riders, the Soldiers' Angels, Wheels of Valor and the Leathernecks -- who held American flags as they stood shoulder to shoulder surrounding Hartman's Funeral Home, on Route 309, a few miles from the family's house.
The funeral home owners are not related to Jennifer Hartman's family.
Inside the funeral home, mourners signed a large poster board covered with photos of Hartman with her friends.
"Jen, you are a hero to us all," Chris Coombe wrote.
Her medals -- a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a Good Conduct medal -- lay on a table. A large picture of her in uniform was beside the brass urn containing her remains.
Hartman's classmates from Tamaqua Area High School, who said they tried to talk her out of signing up, gathered in small, tearful groups, the thought of never seeing her again too much for them.
"Just to see her smile. Just to see her be goofy," said Kenya Garcia, his voice trailing off.
Heather Hill remembered Hartman as determined to "teach us how not to be girly-girls."
Hartman razzed one classmate who applied makeup before each class.
"What are you doing that for? You don't need makeup. No one needs makeup," Hill recalled her friend saying.
Hartman had a way of "saying something goofy" that would make a downcast friend laugh, Hill said.
"She's probably looking down and yelling at us for getting dressed up and crying," Hill said.
Eyes glistening, she looked down. "This is so hard"
Hill last saw Hartman in July, when she was home on leave. Hartman came into the convenience store where Hill works, saying she was headed off to ride her new four-wheeler.
At the service, Army National Guard Chaplain Bruce Farrell urged mourners to grieve, remember and hope.
He read from a letter Hartman wrote to her sister that illustrated Hartman's zest for life.
"It's not about what happened in the past. It's not about what might happen in the future," she wrote. "It's about the ride, for Christ's sake."
Following the three-hour viewing and service, mourners headed to Bethlehem, where Hartman's remains were interred at Holy Saviour Cemetery.
There, Farrell read from the 23rd Psalm, and from a poem given to the family by Joan Moyer of Orwigsburg, who didn't know the Hartmans but who lost her son in Vietnam. Moved by the news of Hartman's death, Moyer called the family and asked to stop by with the poem.
The poem conveyed the message that Hartman is "living in the hearts of those she touched."
White doves were released, a rifle squad fired a salute and an American flag was folded and presented to her grieving parents.
Moments later, Hartman's parents clung to each other, sobbing as they placed red roses on the table holding their daughter's remains.
Patriot Guard Riders captain Richard E. Marcks presented them with a plaque, calling their daughter "a true American hero."
Living life to its fullest
Above all, her father said, Jennifer Hartman "just loved life."
"She wanted everybody to have a good life," he said in an interview Thursday. "She could talk to you and free you up and get you to smile. She had so much life in her you can't imagine."
Jennifer Hartman's strong personality was evident from the start, her parents said. She knew what she wanted and didn't stop until she got it.
She was born on May 21, 1985, in Allentown, where the family lived at the time. She was the young couple's first child, born the same year they married. The family moved to West Penn Township in 1994 so Jennifer and her siblings could grow up away from the drugs and crime that come with city life.
A computer slide show created by her sister and played at the funeral showed a chubby, happy infant Jennifer, a smiling toddler happily smeared with icing as she used both hands to devour her first birthday cake.
Later photos showed a bubbly preschooler, sitting on Santa's lap, nibbling a chocolate Easter bunny, sitting astride a plastic toddler motorcycle, an enormous grin on her pixie face -- a grin repeated in almost every photograph, no matter where she was or what she was doing.
The photo was prophetic. Later in life, the family said, Jennifer came to adore anything with a motor.
After the family moved to West Penn, David Hartman bought his children dirt bikes, go-karts and all-terrain vehicles.
And Jennifer was happiest on wheels.
Photographs show her with a line of at least 20 dirt bikes in front of the family's garage, and riding all-terrain vehicles.
While Jennifer was light-hearted, she also was responsible, her parents said. She quickly paid off her new car and saved her money. But before leaving for Iraq on Dec. 15, she came home in search of the perfect ATV, David Hartman said. And after looking in several shops, she finally found it -- a sleek white model.
"She said, "If I don't get this four-wheeler, and something would happen [in Iraq], I'd be really mad,"' the father recalled her saying. "We went right down and picked it up."
The vehicle sits in the garage now. David Hartman said he plans to have a glass case made for it. "I could never sell it," he said.
Jennifer was so enamored of engines, David Hartman said, that she chose the properties and manufacture of automotive oil as a school science project.
Jennifer and her father were close.
"Everything I did, she was right there," the father recalled. "She had no fear."
Their daughter was never a "girly-girl," the Hartmans said.
Her mother recalled that she enrolled her daughters in dance classes when Jennifer was about 5. She loved to dance, but loathed the frilly, flouncy costume she had to wear for a performance.
"She wanted no part of that because it was a dress," Bernice Hartman said with a chuckle.
"I'd tell her to smile for the picture, and she'd say, "No!' " David Hartman said.
Jennifer grew up playing baseball -- she was the only girl on her first team -- basketball, running track and riding her beloved ATV's and dirt bikes.
She listened to rock music, loved her mother's homemade mashed potatoes and halupki, and excelled in school, effortlessly.
"She was really good in school," Katie Hartman said.
"I never saw that kid crack a book, but she was in honors classes," David Hartman said. "I don't know how she did it."
Finishing what she started
The Hartmans said they wanted Jennifer to attend Lehigh Carbon Community College, but the strong-willed young woman had made up her mind that she wanted to reap the benefits of a stint in the Army before going on to open a motor sports shop or sell real estate.
Jennifer signed up while she was a student at Tamaqua Area High School.
David Hartman says the Army recruiter who came to their home assured the family Jennifer would not go to Iraq.
"I told him I would not sign those papers" unless he could promise she would not be sent to Iraq, the father said. The recruiter, whose name the family did not want published, insisted she would not be sent, the Hartmans said.
Hartman left for the Army in July 2003 after graduating. She started out aiming for a medical career, but ended up as a cook.
She went to Iraq on Dec. 15, and was nearly through a one-year tour.
She enjoyed Army life, "especially driving the Humvees," her father said.
Like many young people, Hartman created a personal page on the popular Internet site MySpace.com.
Her MySpace profile confirms her family's descriptions of her.
"I think I'm pretty down to earth," she wrote. "[But] I'm a quite loud person, all wrapped into one. It takes a lot to get the loud part out of me but once you get to know me, you'll see what I am talking about. I love jet skiing, ATVing, wakeboarding, shopping and just chilling.
"I can't stand staying still for too long."
She last updated her Web page on May 27, and was looking forward to her return home and final years in the Army.
"Two more left till I get to go back to Pa. and go to school," she wrote. "I plan on majoring in business but hey that's still pretty far off so I'll let ya know how that goes. I have been in Iraq since December 15 and am just around the half-way point till I get to come back to the states, seems like ages away. But hey I signed the dotted line and I am going to finish what I started."
Hartman's family said they last spoke to her on Sept. 3. In that phone call, Hartman assured her worried parents she was safe.
"I'm in a power plant building; these idiots can't blow me up here," her parents said she told them.
The day before she was killed, Hartman mailed a letter to her sister.
"i [sic] recently moved to this crappy hole in Iraq," she wrote. "It's actually a power plant that the infantry are keeping safe."
Hartman's eager anticipation at coming home in November made it easier to cope with lack of water. She said she "showered" using a case of bottled water.
"This deployment is almost over, so I have to make do. Yippee!" she wrote. "So yeah, I can't wait to be home for awhile."