May 11, 2008 6:00 AM
DURHAM — Navy SEAL Nathan “Nate” Hardy lived a warrior’s life and he died a warrior’s honorable death fighting for his country in Iraq.
That is what those who knew him best emphasized to the more than 1,000 in attendance at a memorial celebration of his life Saturday at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gymnasium.
“We will always feel some sense of grief and loss when we think of Nate,” said his younger brother, Benjamin E. Hardy. “But if we can also be proud of him, if we can be happy for his good death, his honorable death, and if we can be grateful for his sacrifice, for the life he gave, maybe that grief can be lessened, and maybe we will be a little bit closer to better honoring our memories of my brother.”
Hardy, 29, an Oyster River High School graduate and a special operator chief petty officer in the Navy, was killed in battle in Iraq on Feb. 4 while trying to pull his teammate, Mike Koch, to safety. The two died side-by-side and they were buried side-by-side at Arlington National Cemetery on Feb. 15.
Hardy’s friends, family and dignitaries spoke of a rugged boy full of fun and laughter who, in sixth grade, wrote of becoming a Navy SEAL, an elite force trained in unconventional warfare. It stands for Sea, Air and Land.
They remembered a standout soccer and lacrosse player, who upon graduation from Oyster River in 1997 enlisted in the Navy and quickly distinguished himself as he achieved his boyhood dream. They spoke of his love of his family, his home in Durham, UNH, his fellow SEALs and his country.
“Every time he went into battle, he did so with (an American) flag folded and pressed tightly to his body underneath his gear and his body armor,” his brother said. “He didn’t display it openly, he didn’t talk about it. None of us knew it until after his death.”
Hardy leaves his wife, Mindi, a 10-month-old son, Parker, his brother Ben, his father, Stephen, a professor at UNH, and his mother, Donna, an administrative assistant at the university.
In a video remembrance made by Hardy’s friend Matthew Renner there is a short clip of newborn Parker asleep on his father’s lap. “He’s watching his first movie — ‘Patton,’ ” Hardy laughs.
His numerous awards and decorations included two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and a Defense Meritorious Service Medal. In addition to Iraq, he served in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Gov. John Lynch expressed the state’s gratitude and condolences and, like many who spoke at the ceremony, remarked on what a full life Hardy had packed into his 29 years.
“It is not in the number of years lived that the true quality of a life is measured,” said the Rev. Dr. Mary E. Westfall of Community Church in Durham.
Benjamin Hardy said his brother believed fully in the mission in Iraq. He said Nate would send him books such as Ann Coulter’s “Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism,” and David T. Hardy’s “Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man,” and Ben would return the favor, sending his brother Al Franken’s “Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them): A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” and the biography of Howard Dean.
He said his brother particularly loved the movie “300,” which tells the story of 300 Spartan warriors’ fight to the last man against the Persians in the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.
Benjamin said he didn’t think about it much when his brother was alive but he realizes now that Nathan Hardy embraced the Spartan warrior code. He said this understanding has given him perspective on his brother’s life and death.
“Nate’s was a good death,” Benjamin Hardy said. “This was a warrior’s death. An honorable death. This was a good death. It sounds like an oxymoron — good death — and I hardly feel qualified to talk about it, but by any warrior standards — be it Spartan, Viking, Samurai — his was a good death. When I look at the events in this light, that grief and that sense of loss give way a little bit to something else. I feel proud of my brother — he lived a warrior’s life and died a warrior’s death. He died facing his enemy, fighting by his brother’s side, holding his shield aloft to the very end. For that I am proud of my brother and I am happy for him. He met his end doing what he loved, and he stayed true to his warrior’s code.”
A standing ovation rose spontaneously for Benjamin Hardy’s words and Nathan Hardy’s life.