Orfordville soldier remembered for his faith, service
JANESVILLE Cpl. Benjamin Neal's first tattoo was a cross across his shoulder blades.
"Literally and symbolically, he carried the cross of Christ on his back," the Rev. Kevin Dooley told family and friends at Neal's funeral Tuesday morning.
Neal embraced his Catholic faith, and his parents, Don and Trish, were proud of their son's appreciation of faith, Dooley said.
"Ben felt it would help face whatever he wasn't prepared for, and I imagine Afghanistan was just filled with those things," he said, pausing for a moment, "especially the depth of the pain of war."
Neal, 21, died April 25 of injuries he suffered from an improvised explosive device in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan. His body arrived at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport on Saturday morning, and hundreds of residents welcomed him home along a processional route to Orfordville.
On Tuesday, hundreds of mourners packed into the standing-room-only St. William Catholic Church in Janesville, which provided more space than Dooley's St. Augustine Catholic Church in Footville.
Parkview School District classes were canceled for the day so students and staff could pay their respects to the soldier. Neal graduated from Parkview in 2009 and entered the U.S. Army that summer.
A line of American flags waved outside the church windows while colorful flowers lined the front of the altar. A baby clutched a flag as piano music filled the room.
Dooley described how Neal appreciated music and how he selected the pieces played during the service, which included vocal solos by family members.
The band Placebo's cover recording of "Running up that Hill" played as family members recessed with the casket to the back of the church.
Friends and family can be proud of Neal's service to his nation, said Brig. Gen. Darrell Williams of Columbus, Ohio, who spoke as representative for the secretary of the Army.
Williams expressed sympathy and thanks to Neal's wife, Emily, and his family at the back of the church at the end of the recessional song. A couple of family members wore military identification tags around their necks.
"While it is a sober duty, it is at the same time an honor to be present at this celebration of the life of an American patriot and an American hero," he said.
Several friends and family members told Williams during Monday night's visitation that Neal had wanted to be a soldier since he was a young boy.
"And by all accounts, he was exceptional. He was outstanding," Williams said. "He raised his hand to answer our nation's call in its time of need, and for that we can't thank him and his wonderful support system in this community enough."
Williams presented the family with Neal's military awards: the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Combat and Special Skills Basic Marksman Qualification Badge, and the Overseas Bar.
Neal chose the inscription for the stone that will rest at his grave: "Only in death will we live forever." A burial ceremony followed at Holy Cross Cemetery in Evansville.
Neal re-enlisted, or re-upped, for his last deployment, said Dooley, who asked mourners to consider their own lives.
"We can follow Ben's example and re-up ourselves to live what we truly believe, to seek what is right for ourselves and all others, to make of life what it is meant to be—a blessing so amazing that others will always remember the many occasions where by the grace of God we made a difference in their lives and in our world."