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Hundreds attend service for fallen soldier

By: Penne Usher Journal Correspondent
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“Well I’m laying down my guns, I’m hanging up my boots, I’m up here with God and we’re both watching over you.” It was almost as if fallen soldier Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt was speaking these words from Tim McGraw’s song “If You’re Reading This” to his wife Olivia and his family and friends as it played at his memorial service Friday. A standing room-only-crowd assembled at the Parkside Church of the Nazarene in Auburn to pay their respects to Hardt, 24, of Applegate, who was killed Oct. 3 while serving in Afghanistan with the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo. The bonafide country boy was laid to rest in a flag-draped casket, but not in his military uniform and not wearing any of the numerous medals he received during his service in the Army. Joshua Hardt was buried in a brand-new set of Carhartts workclothes. The avid fisherman and all-around outdoorsman received several military honors including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, commendation medals campaign medals and the NATO medal. Chaplain Tim Thompson, retired Army Lt. Col., said Friday to those who came to honor Hardt that the day was about remembering the “courageous life of Army Sgt. Joshua Hardt.” “He made the ultimate sacrifice,” Thompson said. “We will never forget Joshua or what he gave for our freedom.” Sgt. John Hardt, one of Joshua’s older brothers, took the stage in front of more than 350 guests to share his thoughts about his beloved brother. “I’m sure Josh is looking down and seeing this crowd, saying ‘people liked me,’” John Hardt said. “He was more than a brother – he was my best friend and there for me when I needed it most.” John Hardt told the friends and family gathered that the last time he spoke to his younger brother, Joshua said, “I love you ... see you soon.” “Had I known that was the last time … I would have said more,” said a tearful John Hardt. “He will forever be in my heart.” Amid anecdotes, fond memories and a few laughs, there were tears. Photographs of Joshua Hardt flashed on a screen in the front of the chapel. There were baby photos, the smiles of a rambunctious 6-year-old, pictures of Joshua as an All-Sierra league linebacker for Placer High and photos of Joshua embracing his wife, Olivia. “He was a wonderful, devoted husband,” Olivia Hardt said in a released statement. “He was an incredibly kind and generous man, and would have given me the world. He was not only my husband, he was my best friend. I’ve lost my best buddy.” When home on leave Joshua Hardt enjoyed nothing better than being with his family, laughing with his wife, playing with his niece and god-daughter Aubrey and getting out in the Sierra Nevada to fish in quiet serenity. During a remembrance video, a montage of various photographs of soldiers in the heat of battle, cradling children played to the Tim McGraw song “If You’re Reading This.” There didn’t appear to be a dry eye in the building. That song, along with other country-themed music played throughout the service, seemed to sum up Sgt. Joshua Hardt. His mother, Shelley Bell, said her son will never be forgotten. “Joshua was such a good son, husband, brother, friend and our hero,” Bell said in a prepared statement. “He gave me the best bear hugs a mom ever needed and was always ready with a good laugh. He will be deeply missed and never forgotten.” In closing Chaplain Thompson saluted Hardt’s casket. “We honor his valor, his courage and his devotion to his country,” Chaplain Thompson said. “Sgt. Hardt we salute you.” A private burial will be held Saturday. Penne Usher can be reached at penne.usher@gmail.com