Friend recalls Aiken soldier killed in Afghanistan

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

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.

Bomb kills Aiken soldier in Afghanistan