Friend recalls Aiken soldier killed in Afghanistan

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AIKEN --- Willie James Harley was the first friend Kenith Corley met when he moved to Aiken at age 6.

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Willie James Harley: Aiken native and National Guardsman was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Harley's company was deployed in July.   Special
Willie James Harley: Aiken native and National Guardsman was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Harley's company was deployed in July.

Just across the road from each other on the north side of Aiken, the two grew up with dreams of playing college football. Their only major disagreement was about fishing. Harley wasn't an angler, said Corley.

"Willie is a little older than I am, but I was the more sensible one and like the big brother," he said.

It was trust, and knowing they had each other's back, that kept them friends for 42 years.

On Friday, Corley received the devastating news that his lifelong pal had been killed in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device.

Harley, a 48-year-old staff sergeant, was with the National Guard's 1221st Engineering Company based in Graniteville and Batesburg. Spc. Luther Rabon, 32, of Lexington County, S.C., was also killed in the attack, according to Col. Peter J. Brooks, a spokesman for the South Carolina National Guard. Their company of about 100 men deployed in July.

Corley was attending their alma mater Aiken High's football game in Florence when he received the news from Harley's daughter and sister.

Harley's son, Christopher, who is also serving with the company, confirmed it before military personnel even contacted the family, said Corley.

"We just said it has to be true because Chris is over there with him," he said. "At first we were all shocked with it and it's taken a little while for it to sink in that this really happened, but I think the family's doing quite well."

Throughout high school, the boys -- both defensive tackles -- battled it out to see who would take on William "The Refrigerator" Perry, said Corley. They wanted to be the best, and that meant going up against the best.

After high school, the two went to work at Graniteville Mills. Still wanting to chase the dream of college ball, the men quit after a year to condition for tryouts as walk-ons for Division II schools.

"We knew that (working at the mill) wasn't what we were supposed to do. But tryouts, man, that was the worst," said Corley. "We weren't ready. We didn't have it."

Corley packed up for Presbyterian College in the Upstate before transferring back to Aiken Technical College. Harley decided to join the Army Reserve instead of returning to the mill.

Harley kept his football dreams alive by coaching East Aiken Elementary's squad and sharing the game with his own boys.

"He just loved the game. He watched a lot of Dallas Cowboys, but it wasn't like he had a favorite team. He just loved to watch," said Corley.

As Harley headed into his third tour with the Army this summer, he told Corley he was ready to retire and work as a civilian at Fort Jackson in Columbia.

"He was ready to dedicate more time to his grandkids and children and didn't want to have to worry about being deployed again," said Corley. "Before he left he asked me to keep his motorcycle in my garage and I just said, 'Hey, you're coming back to get it, just leave it in your garage.' "

Harley is survived by five children -- Christopher Fuller, Allison Fuller, Calvin Fuller, Desmond Fuller and Willie Harley III. Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced by the end of the week.

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curly123053 10/06/10 - 07:42 am
My prayers are with the

My prayers are with the Harley family and his friends, as well as the Rabon family.

Breaker 10/06/10 - 09:11 am
Willie was a great guy that i

Willie was a great guy that i have known for many years. I knew him as a coach, a co-worker and proudly served with him in Iraq. He will be greatly missed and to the family my thoughts and prayers are with you.Continue to be strong and he was a loved by many.

jenkjenk 10/06/10 - 11:03 am
Willie was a very good

Willie was a very good person! I truly enjoyed working with him as a soldier and knowing him as a family in the unit. We served together in the SC Army National Guard during my first few years of enlistment. He will be missed and my prayers and heartfelt compassion is with his family. Rest in peace! Sgt. Melissa L. Jenkins

Farmboy 10/06/10 - 07:11 pm
My prayers are with you.

My prayers are with you.

CobaltGeorge 10/06/10 - 07:37 pm
The DOD announced the deaths

The DOD announced the deaths of 2 soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. They died Oct. 1 in Paktika province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked their military vehicle with improvised explosive device. They were assigned to the 1221st Engineer Clearance Company, Graniteville, S.C. Killed were: Staff Sgt. Willie J. Harley Jr., 48, of Aiken, S.C. Spc. Luther W. Rabon Jr., 32, of Lexington, S.C.

To my friends, family & fellow PGR members,

Patriot Guard Riders are AWESOME!!!!..... I'm so proud to be a part of these men and women who choose to spend time honoring and standing for those who have given their all for this great country. Whether it be an escort to their buriel place, or a flag line in their honor (Or BOTH) These fine fighting men and women of our military put their very lives in harms way so that we may enjoy (sadly to say) what little freedoms we have left. You dont see these posts in the local papers. But as a member of the Patriot Guard.... I see them on a regular basis.... I'm urging you, BEGGING you.... If you are a registerd voter. PLEASE!!! ..... Vote on Nov. 2nd..... Our beloved country depends on it.... YOUR vote does indeed count.

God Bless The Families.

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