By Katie Drews
While Sgt. Joshua Harris was serving in Afghanistan, his lieutenant would often yell to him, "Harris, what are you smiling for?"
"I don't know, sir," Harris would reply.
The 21-year-old member of the Illinois Army National Guard always walked around with a big smile across his face. A noted prankster, he also did whatever it took to put a smile on other people's faces.
"He was a goof," said his mother, Mille Harris-Hickey. "He wanted people to be happy and didn't want any sadness."
Harris was born in Oak Park and grew up in Forest Park. He was living in Oak Park when he was deployed to Afghanistan in August of 2008 with Battery B, 2nd Battalion of the 122nd Field Artillery. Just weeks later, on Sept. 17, he was killed in an explosion that also took the lives of four others.
The fallen soldier's life will be memorialized with a handicapped ramp dedicated in his name at the entrance of his former church and grade school, St. John Evangelical Lutheran, 305 Circle Ave. in Forest Park. A dedication ceremony will be held Saturday, Dec. 18 from 1 to 3 p.m. at St. John with members of the military, Forest Park police and fire departments, as well as friends and family.
Harris' father, Bill, said he was "overwhelmed" when he heard what the church was planning for his son.
"It's a great honor," he said. "He was formed by the people at St. John's. With all the teachers and everyone he came in contact with there, he took everything they said and digested it. He is part of everyone."
At St. John, Shawn Dahlstrand, chairman of the board for parish property, remembers Harris as a "fun-loving" kid. "He had a quick-wit, and he was a bit mischievous at times," Dahlstrand said. "He was always in a good mood."
He was particularly good at making others laugh through his impressions. He did a good Bill Clinton and Joe Pesci. An injured soldier who knew Harris once told his mother that he did the best impression of Bernie Mac he ever saw.
"He was always fun to be around," his father said.
Family members said Harris was very focused and dedicated to the military. Ever since he was a young boy, he dreamed of becoming a soldier. His bedroom was decorated with all the flags of the armed forces, and as a child, he would dress up as a soldier and march around the house.
With his parents' consent, he enlisted in the army when he was a junior at Walther Lutheran High School.
"He had all his ducks in a row," Bill Harris said. "From a very young age, that was his lifelong dream — to be in the service."
The young soldier was one of the best, his mother said, and was often chosen to help train other people in the service. He earned a multitude of military honors and medals including a Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NATO Medal, Lincoln Medal of Freedom, Combat Action Badge, Expert Qualification Rifle Badge and Military Attendance Ribbon, among many others.
"He never bragged about his status," Mille Harris-Hickey said. "He was just a soldier, and that's what he wanted."