Army Spc. Joshua A. Harton was a zombie movie-loving wise guy who was looking forward to getting out of the "crap hole" of Afghanistan in February but instead will be memorialized in a few days by his stricken relatives, who learned over the weekend that he had died in an ambush.
Harton, 23, died Saturday, according to his mother, Ruth Harton. Army representatives knocked on the door of her Bethlehem home early Sunday morning to break the news.
"We already knew," she said. "No one else comes to the door like that. As soon as I saw the uniforms, I knew."
Harton, who enlisted in the Army shortly before his 21st birthday, had served a tour in Iraq and had been recently stationed at Forward Operating Base Griffin in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, based at Fort Drum, N.Y..
He spent three weeks at his mother's home in August and wrote an update on his Facebook page just before heading back to the war zone:
"So I am only one day until back at FOB Griffin, people should start writing me don't get to come online very often, only until FEB and I am out of this crap hole!!"
Harton died in Kaftar Khan of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire, the Department of Defense reported Monday night. His mother said she was told his platoon was on its way back from patrol when it was ambushed and that Harton was the only casualty.
"He usually does the big guns on the turrets, on the armored vehicles," she said. "He's usually in the rear, usually the go-to guy. Either he got jumped and had no time to react or he reacted and because he did, his squad was OK. That would make sense to me, because that was Josh. He's protecting their back."
She said her son, who was born in Sellersville and attended school in the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, had always been fiercely loyal to his friends, at home and in the service.
"They're not siblings by blood, but he's got more brothers than I can count," she said.
Harton's remains were to be returned to his family — besides his mother, he is survived by a sister, Jessica, and stepsister, Leia — at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
His mother said Harton, who loved zombie movies and playing a paintball-style game called Zombie Hill, left William Penn High School in Philadelphia before graduating but later obtained a general equivalency diploma.
She said he was a funny kid — "Oh, he was a wise-ass" — who liked puns and "make-you-think humor."
"He would do a pun or joke and you wouldn't get it until five minutes later," she remembered.
Living at home and working part-time for a delivery company, Harton was dissatisfied and decided to join the military. He planned to pursue a law-enforcement career when he was finished.
"He wasn't a flag-waving patriot," his mother said, "but he was there to do his duty. It wasn't because of king and country, it was because he knew it was right."
He stayed in touch by e-mail and phone. She missed her son's most recent call, on Friday.
Harton said her son's remains would be cremated and the memorial service will be private. He was a dog lover with a particular fondness for English bulldogs, so she asked that donations in her son's name be made to bulldog rescue groups or to the Lehigh County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
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