IRAQ WAR DEATH

A Solemn Return to Arlington

Kelli Hake, left, comforts son Gage as an honor guard folds the flag that adorned the coffin of her husband, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Hake. His mother, Denice York, is next to Kelli Hake, and his father, Peter Hake, is at far left.
Kelli Hake, left, comforts son Gage as an honor guard folds the flag that adorned the coffin of her husband, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Hake. His mother, Denice York, is next to Kelli Hake, and his father, Peter Hake, is at far left. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Early in his military career, Christopher M. Hake served at Arlington National Cemetery as part of a group that provides escorts at military funerals. Yesterday, he returned to Arlington for his burial.

Army Staff Sgt. Hake, 26, of Enid, Okla., died March 24 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered a makeshift bomb March 23.

Kelli Hake learned of her husband's death at 6 a.m. the next day, when two Army officers knocked on her front door.

"All I remember is hearing them say, 'Are you Mrs. Kelli Hake?' I said, 'Yes,' and they said, 'We regret to inform you there's been an accident,' " she told the Stillwater (Okla.) NewsPress. "That's all I can remember. I can't remember anything after that."

Killed with Hake were Pvt. George Delgado, 21, of Palmdale, Calif.; Pfc. Andrew J. Habsieger, 22, of Festus, Mo.; and Cpl. Jose A. Rubio Hernandez, 24, of Mission, Tex. They were assigned to the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga.

More than 100 mourners gathered at Arlington to pay tribute to Hake. Last week, about 1,000 people attended a service for him at Oklahoma Bible Academy in Enid, from which Hake graduated in 2000. He enlisted in the military shortly thereafter.

A chaplain spoke yesterday of how Hake was joining an "honored group" of service members laid to rest at Arlington. He was the 416th service member killed in Iraq to be buried there. After the service, folded flags were presented to Hake's wife and his parents, Denice York and Peter Hake.

Shortly after joining the Army, Hake served in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard. Among other duties, it provides funeral escorts at the cemetery. Several members of the unit, wearing Colonial-era uniforms, were there to honor Hake yesterday.

Mark Shuck, principal at Oklahoma Bible Academy, remembered Hake as good-natured and funny. "He was the type of kid you knew would come to class and do what you'd expect of him," said Shuck, who was Hake's math teacher. "Very respectful young man. . . . Had a great sense of humor but was always very 'yes sir, no sir.' It sounds cliche, but he was an all-American kid. He was always one who was going to make the right decision.

"It didn't surprise anybody that he decided to serve his country," Shuck said. "He had that type of character about him. He had a great dedication. When you think of the military, you could see that in him from a young age."

Hake also was a man of considerable faith, Shuck said. He recalled Hake sending an e-mail saying that he understood why he was in Iraq and that if he died, Hake wanted his son to know it was so he could be free. His son, Gage, is 17 months old.

On his MySpace page, Hake listed his heroes as his father and Jesus Christ. "Without the love and guidance from them both, I would be nothing today," he wrote.

He last wrote on his MySpace page in January, when he updated friends and family. He said he would go on leave in July to spend time with his wife and son.

"But when I do come home for good in '09, we will see everyone," he wrote. "Continue to keep our little family in your prayers. We will keep all of you in ours."


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