Sunday, May 18, 2003

Family, friends mourn slain soldier

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Army Pfc. Marlin T. Rockhold, who had wanted to be a soldier since childhood, received a hero's funeral in his hometown Saturday, nine days after being shot in the back of the head by a sniper in Iraq.

Military pallbearers carry the casket of Army Pfc. Marlin T. Rockhold Saturday at Greenwood Cemetery.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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More than 250 people crammed into the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Hamilton to mourn and honor Rockhold, the only Tristate soldier killed in Iraq.

"He was willing to join the fight for the hopeless so that they might be free," the Rev. Lonnie L. Napier, pastor of St. Phillips C.M.E. Church in Hamilton, said in his eulogy. "Now we must realize that God has set him free."

Rockhold, 23, was directing traffic on a bridge in Baghdad on May 8 when he was shot. A 1998 graduate of Hamilton High School, he had served in the Army for more than a year and was in the 3rd Infantry, based in Fort Stewart, Ga.

Family members said he had been thinking about making the military his career. He leaves his wife, DaVonna, and an 8-year-old stepdaughter, Therashia.

DaVonna Rockhold grieves during services for her husband.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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"From what I can tell, he was a great soldier," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the highest ranking officer at the funeral. "Unfortunately, this is the kind of sacrifice a lot of families experience. When one soldier is killed and it's your family, it's one too many."

An infantry unit served as pallbearers for Rockhold, and the Hamilton native received 21-gun salutes at the Butler County Courthouse as his coffin passed and at Greenwood Cemetery.

After an hour's visitation at the church where Rockhold had been baptized, the service began with family members standing in front of his open casket. They paid their final respects to Rockhold, who was buried in his dress uniform.

His stepmother, Joan Rockhold, bent and kissed him. Some family members sobbed as the coffin lid closed. Throughout the service, the small church swelled with the voices of the congregation singing hymns and patriotic songs.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks greets military pallbearers.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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Standing near the flag-draped coffin, Rockhold's brother, Derrick Henderson, spoke about their close relationship.

"Marlin and I talked about everything," he said.

Henderson said that on Friday night, he dreamed that he saw Marlin in his dress uniform and ran up to him and embraced him.

"My brother is a hero, my hero, our hero," he said. "He is my inspiration. My brother's legacy will live forever in our hearts."

The Rev. Napier emphasized the need to accept Rockhold's death as the will of God.

"He went off to battle in the hands of a merciful God," he said. "What better hands to be in but the hands of a merciful God? If Marlin could talk to us, he would tell us to be strong and brave and not to forget God's love."

As the pallbearers guided the coffin out of the church, the congregation sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

At the cemetery, with a steady rain falling, a small group of people gathered under a green canopy where the casket rested, and many more stood outside the canopy under umbrellas. After prayers, Rockhold's wife was presented with the flag that had draped his coffin.

The cemetery service took place near the graves of veterans of World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.

U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox and Hamilton Mayor Donald Ryan attended the funeral.

"It's a sad occasion for Marlin Rockhold's family and for our city," Ryan said after the church service. "He worked to keep our country free, and he paid the highest price he could pay. We're proud of him."


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