The Memorial Day dedication drew hundreds to the newly named Jennifer J. Harris Square yesterday morning, where droplets of rain fell sporadically and speakers paid tribute to a 28-year-old woman whose short life disguised unimaginable accomplishments.
Peter Sack, former principal of Swampscott High School, called Harris humble, empathetic, selfless and bright - "the best Swampscott had to offer." She was an honors graduate who ranked fifth in the Class of 1996 and was among a small cadre of accomplished women to become Marine Corps pilots.
"Why did I select this career path? The answer was really quite simple and can be summed up in two words: Jennifer Harris," Sack said from a podium on Stetson Avenue, to a crowd that included Harris' family, her classmates, Boy Scouts, neighbors, veterans, congressmen, fire and police officers, and active-duty military personnel. She was the only child of Rosalie and Raymond Harris of Elwin Street.
"She was goodness personified," Sack said. "She was destined to do great things, and she did."
Former Danvers Congressman Peter Torkildsen recalled the internship Harris did at his office while she was a student at Swampscott High. Most interns were in college, he said, but Harris applied for the post in high school - an example of her determination.
"She always wanted to know how to do better," Torkildsen said as his voice trembled. "We dedicate this square to keeping her memory alive ... her example to others."
Toward the end of the ceremony, a lone bagpiper played the stirring "Marine Corps Hymn" while Harris' aunt and uncle, Tony and Linda Macone of Nahant, pulled off a covering to reveal the new signpost that read "Capt. Jennifer J. Harris Square."
Harris' father hung a wreath of flowers on the post as tears streamed from his eyes.
Harris' mother and grandmother, Gina Macone - both in wheelchairs - cried from their spot by the podium. Macone reached over and held her daughter's hand, their eyes fixed on Raymond Harris as he placed the wreath.
"America the Beautiful" played from a speaker as the packed crowd stood frozen, gazing up at the new sign and wiping away tears.