Hephzibah Purple Heart recipient featured in HBO documentary

By: Diane Cho
By: Diane Cho

July 4, 2006

The 4th of July had special meaning for one Hephzibah family. Their daughter, a soldier who got a Purple Heart in Iraq, is safe back in the states--and her story is now being told in an HBO documentary.

Vanessa Harris told her parents what happened to her in Iraq, but it was another thing entirely to see it for themselves firsthand.

"We received a mortar round in middle of the PX parking lot, it caught some soldiers off guard trying to buy a hamburger," Vanessa says.

Vanessa was among nearly two dozen soldiers hit in a mortar attack.

She'd only been in Iraq 12 hours when it happened.

"You hear about the 200 people getting injured or killed, but you don't ever think it'll be you," she says.

It happened last July---but on July 4, Vanessa's family, along with the rest of the country, saw for the first time the raw details and the team that saved her life.

William Harris had no idea what to expect or how he'd feel seeing his injured daughter caught on film.

"They tried to prepare us for the documentary and tried to let us know it would be gory, and it was," he says.

And Harris says he couldn't just watch it once.

"I watched it several times," he says. "It's habit forming; you don't want to watch, but you do.

"As a father, no father wants his child to do that," he says. "I hurt for the lives that were lost, and I think 'What if my daughter was one of those that came home in a body bag?' And that's hard to deal with."

But Harris was lucky---he did get to see Vanessa come home.

"After her recovery she went back to Iraq and finished her duty," he says.

Vanessa Harris is now a sophomore at the Georgia Military College. She wants to become a military chaplain.

Her father tells us she plans to get married after she and her fiancé graduate from college.


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