Saturday, May 10, 2003

Hamilton soldier shot dead in Iraq

He was on traffic duty in Baghdad

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pfc. Marlin Rockhold

HAMILTON - The first Tristate soldier killed in Iraq had written home, and the letter arrived the same day he was shot and killed while directing traffic at a bridge in Baghdad.

Eileen Henderson received the letter Thursday from her grandson, an Army infantryman.

"To actually take a man's life is more than I ever cared to do," Pfc. Marlin Rockhold wrote in neatly printed sentences. "But it was either them or me. I don't know what they were told, but God told me I was coming home!"

Hours later, Mrs. Henderson received word at her Hamilton home that her grandson, whom she had raised for much of his life, was killed by a sniper. Rockhold, a 23-year-old member of the 3rd Infantry, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., was shot in the back of the head.

"There are all those troops over there, and a sniper decides he wants to put his crosshairs on Marlin," said his uncle, Lew Henderson. "I never expected this to happen. I'm still in shock."

Rockhold, a 1998 graduate of Hamilton High School, is the second graduate of that school killed within four months in connection with the war against Iraq.

Excerpts from Pfc. Marlin Rockhold's April 17 letter that his grandmother, Eileen Henderson of Hamilton, received Thursday:

"I'm doing just fine now that the war is over here in Iraq! ...I don't care to see another dead body again as long as I live. To actually take a man's life is more than I ever cared to do. But it was either them or me. I don't know what they were told, but God told me I was coming home!

"War to me is ignorant but very necessary at times such as this. ... I'm about to get out of this hell-hole ASAP and come home for a while. I feel like a mortician over here.

"Burying bodies that have been dead for days isn't my cup of tea, let me tell you ...

"Well, I'm about to close this letter and go on guard again. Love y'all! See you soon."

His teammate on Hamilton High's 1996 football team, Army Sgt. Benjamin Franklin Moore II, was accidentally shot in the back in February at Fort Hood, Texas, while training to be deployed in Iraq. Moore was a 25-year-old Hamilton resident and former Miami University wrestler.

Rockhold left Fort Stewart for Kuwait on Jan. 20. His wife, DaVonna, who is living near Fort Stewart, talked to him Sunday for five minutes on the telephone. They talked about missing each other and how much they loved each other.

"He called me Sunday, and I received a letter the day before yesterday," she said Friday.

Family members described Rockhold as a quiet, cheerful person who had talked about joining the armed forces since he was a young boy. He has been in the Army for about two years.

"He felt he wanted to go and do what he could for his country," Mrs. Henderson said. "He was very dedicated."

She sat in her living room Friday, quietly rereading her grandson's letter, dated April 17. Rockford's wife called her Thursday evening with the news.

"I was really devastated," Mrs. Henderson said. "Marlin just about always had a smile. He was a person you just had to like."

Henderson said his nephew was a hard worker who was determined to achieve his goals.

"Once he made up his mind he was going to do something, he did it," Mrs. Henderson said.

Rockhold's father, Gary Rockhold of Hamilton, said he doesn't regret that his son joined the Army. "I know it was something he wanted to do. He possibly wanted to make a career out of it."

U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, issued a statement expressing condolences to Rockhold's family and friends, and praised him for contributing "to the freedom, security and peace in America, in Iraq and throughout the world."

"My thoughts, my prayers go out to the family of that soldier," Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander in chief, Central Command, said Thursday.

Franks added: "I will say that I have an expectation that we will see rough behavior in this country for the foreseeable future; we will be up to it, and our people will continue to do their jobs."

Rockhold was one of two soldiers killed Thursday in Baghdad in separate shootings.

Joni Copas, Hamilton Schools' spokeswoman, said that the families of Rockhold and Moore should be proud of them for serving their country. "The school district is proud of them as well," she said.

Rockhold's stepmother, Joan Rockhold, said her and her husband's religious faith and their family and friends are helping them cope.

"He did not die in vain," she said. "He wanted to protect his country, and that's what he did."

Sue Kiesewetter, Michael D. Clark and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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