Soldier’s funeral procession to Orfordville brings out hundreds
ORFORDVILLE The noise already had been subdued as if people were talking quietly in church rather than outdoors along Beloit Street.
After the local fire trucks and then the motorcycles of the Patriot Guard Riders had rumbled through, it was like a switch flipped—and the voices stopped. The stone-faced riders preceded a white hearse carrying the remains of 21-year-old Orfordville native Cpl. Benjamin Neal.
After the hearse, car after car carried silent passengers past silent viewers. The cars rolled under two enormous flags hung across Beloit Street between two pairs of extended firetruck ladders.
The cars rolled past the 2,000 flags placed along the route Friday evening by volunteers.
The silence hung in the air for minutes as the procession rolled on and on. Few people moved from their positions on the curbs of downtown Orfordville. Slowly, one family at a time, they picked up their things and walked back to their cars and homes. They spoke only quietly.
Neal died April 25 in Afghanistan while on his second tour of duty. He is survived by his parents, Don and Trish, his wife, Emily, and his siblings Bradley, Becca, Brendan, Brooke and Bridgette.
He graduated in 2009 from Orfordville High School.
A visitation is planned Monday at Orfordville High School. A funeral is planned Tuesday.
A small ceremony at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport earlier Saturday morning was just as quiet as the procession. A chartered plane landed at the airport shortly after 9 a.m. to deliver Neal’s remains. Members of the military and Neal’s family met the plane on the tarmac. They were joined by members of the American Legion as well as the Patriot Guard Riders, a national organization of motorcyclists whose members attend military funerals.
The riders formed a “V” with the narrow end near the airstrip. When the plane landed, the riders closed the “V” to form a protective circle around the airplane and Neal’s family.
The only sounds were of flags snapping in the wind and the occasional command from an honor guard at attention near the funeral home’s waiting hearse.
The only voice to break the morning’s silence was from the Rev. Kevin Dooley, a priest who will officiate at Neal’s funeral services Tuesday. Dooley prayed over the flag-draped casket.
His voice became conversational after he ended his prayer.
“Welcome home, Ben,” Dooley said softly.
“Quite the tribute”
Hundreds, possibly thousands of people lined the procession route between the airport and Newcomer Silverthorn Chapel on the Hill on the north side of Orfordville. Nearly every driveway was full along Highway 51, Townline Road, County D, Plymouth Church Road and Highway 213, said funeral home director Tom Newcomer, who was in the procession.
“Every driveway had somebody in it,” Newcomer said.
Cars were pulled over on cross streets, and viewers filled intersections to watch the procession.
Farmers parked their tractors and got out to pay their respects, Newcomer said.
Many people held signs printed with statements of encouragement and gratitude.
“Every place you went there was one here and there,” Newcomer said. “It was quite a tribute.”