1998 West Point graduates arrived in Iraq around same time
A bomb that exploded south of Baghdad, Iraq, brought two Metro Detroit families together in grief.
The vehicle explosion on Friday killed Army Capts. Stephen Frank, 29, and Ralph John "Jay" Harting III, 28, two former Michigan men who had become buddies in the Army. They were killed when a vehicle they were inspecting at a checkpoint exploded.
After learning of the deaths of their sons on Saturday, Harting's mother and father, June and Ralph J. Harting, drove to Frank's parents' Farmington Hills home two miles away to meet the family of the man who died alongside their son.
"It was a kind of coincidence you think God arranged for you," said June Harting of her meeting with Bill and Sue Frank.
"Initially, I was just trying to make myself feel better that somebody was with Jay and (then) I ended up thinking, there was somebody with us, too," said June Harting of West Bloomfield.
Frank and Harting were the 48th and 49th soldiers with Michigan ties to die in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
Frank and Harting were classmates at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, and both graduated in 1998. They were both stationed at the Fort Irwin Army base near Barstow, Calif., and were part of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
Stephen Frank, who has three younger sisters, grew up in the Lansing area and graduated from Haslett High School in 1994. His parents moved to Farmington Hills seven years ago.
Frank was a combat trainer at Fort Irwin, where he lived with his wife, Laurel, and their 2-year-old son, Alexander.
At Fort Irwin, Frank taught other soldiers how to conduct battles in desert-like conditions. He was deployed to the Middle East in December and moved from Kuwait to Iraq the next month.
"He was excited to be there, although it was dangerous," Bill Frank said. "He hated to leave his wife and his son, but he knew this was his duty to his country."
Frank's mother, Sue, said she is holding fast to her faith as she and her husband deal with the pain of losing their son.
"I don't understand why this happened and it's very, very difficult, but I believe God had a purpose for Stephen's life, and Stephen believed God had a purpose for his life," she said.
June Harting said she is comforted by the fact that her son died with his Army buddy.
"They were both wonderful young men. We're feeling really bad, but it's a little better that they were together," she said.
Bill Frank said the last time he heard from his son was on April 8.
"He called me on my birthday," he said. "He said, 'Happy Birthday, things are going well here.' He felt they were making real progress and the Iraqis were helping Americans with more information (about insurgents)," Frank said.
Ralph J. Harting lived in Union Lake until he was a teenager and his family moved to Wilmington, Del. He graduated from Salesianum High School in Wilmington in 1994 and, like Frank, entered the U.S. Military Academy.
Harting was deployed to Iraq in January from Fort Irwin. He led a company of 120 soldiers.
"He never really talked about the dangers (of war)," said June Harting. "He was very, very patriotic. He really believed in the West Point motto 'Duty, Honor, Country'."
June Harting said she last heard from her son about three weeks ago when they exchanged messages on the Internet.
Harting leaves behind his wife, Jennifer, and three young children, including a son who was born Sunday, two days after his father's death.
A joint memorial service will be held for Frank and Harting on Friday at Fort Irwin. Another service will be held for them on May 14 at West Point, where they will be buried.
Associated Press contributed to this report. You can reach Oralandar Brand-Williams at (313) 222-2027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Oralandar Brand-Williams / The Detroit News