Woody Island, June 6, 2003
Provided by Lisa Monroe
At the conclusion of the Woody Island Tribal Council retreat, the elders offered honorary Alutiiq names to Mike Lapolla, Jim Umberger, Ron Coon and Bob Crawford. Jim Umberger was closer to Danny Harmon than any other Ranger. And Ron Coon was with Danny on his final mission. It was fitting that the tribe gave Umberger the name "Raven" - and that Ron Coon received the name "Eagle". The story below will show you why.
Lisa Monroe is Dan Harmon's niece. She was in attendance at the memorial ceremony the family organized for Dan Harmon. It was Friday afternoon, June 6, 2003. The sun was shining for the first time in days. The family and friends were gathered around the Woody Island (AK) gravesite. The day before, the family completely cleaned and trimmed around the site and provided flowers and flags. They also built a wood fence around the grave in the the Russian Orthodox tradition. She offers the following recollections.
The Alutiiq culture recognizes the Raven as the "beginning" and ascribe significant symbolism. Bob Crawford told us that prior to the ceremony, he went to the gravesite early to photograph the family and friends as they made there way up the hill. Bob said when he arrived there was a raven at the gravesite. The raven stayed there until the family arrived and then flew away.
Amongst the small crowd gathered at his graveside, you could see all the faces. The brothers and sisters with tears in their eyes as they remembered their brother. Standing beside them just as proud and welcomed just the same, were Danny's friends. All surrounded by lifelong family and friends of the island that was the proud heritage of Daniel Harmon. After 36 years, all had come to join in the life and memory of a man they had all loved or grown to love. A man that was brave and honorable, honest and forthright, that would give his life for those he considered his friend, and he did.
Standing there, after two days of travel, wind, and rain, the skies began to clear and the sun began to warm our skin. The most prominent figure was the lone priest at the foot of the grave. Ornamented in full Russian Orthodox dress, the priest began the ceremony in Russian chant, but switched to English as he sang to the Lord above to bless our brother as he slept. As he circled and proceeded to speak to the Lord on behalf of Danny, he swung the traditional incense over the grave. With skies cleared, and the sun shining down, a movement in the sky caught my attention. In a quiet sweep upwards, my eyes fell upon the eagles. As we shared this moment on earth with the four friends that served with Danny, the sky above was filled with five, gracious, bald eagles.
The priest carried on about eternal slumber, but the Eagles above soared and swooped with all the freedom they have come to represent. The freedom and pride that brought these five gentlemen together. The tears came and threatened to blur this spectacular event. Out of respect, the ceremony continued, but word spread, whisper by whisper, amongst the crowd. Instead of heads bowed in mourning, our eyes were cast upward, towards the heavens. The beauty of this event was overwhelming.
The words of the blessing, the joining of family with our new brothers of the heart, and the love shared by all. Everything was overshadowed by the five eagles circling above the graveside service. As these eagles soared, almost dancing above us, the service began to unwind. As the priest stopped at the foot of the grave, our eyes were still cast to the skies.
Even the words of the priest seems muffled by the grandeur of what was happening above. And in the last moments of the service, as a final prayer was being said, one lone eagle, after a final farewell to his compadres, dipped and soared off alone.
The priest, with his final words, had no idea what an intense, symbolic event had truly happened. We stood there, tears overflowing, our hearts praising the four remaining eagles. And with the closing words, we were brought back down to earth, where we stood no longer soaring with those majestic eagles, but standing with the four remaining majestic Rangers: Ron Coon, Mike Lapolla, Jim Umberger, and Bob Crawford.
From the family of Daniel Lee Harmon, thank you and we love you. Welcome to the family.