Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts: ‘In this simple grave … lies a national hero’
The body of Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts was laid to rest at Prospect Hill Cemetery in 2006, four years after he died in Afghanistan at the hands of al-Qaida. Background posts: Hammer-wielding Yorkers helped to nail kaiser’s noggin , WWII in York County, by the numbers and War memorials stand proudly in towns throughout York County and Navy Seal Neil C. Roberts, Part II and Navy Seal Neil C. Roberts, Part III.
Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts was the first of more than 20 fighting men with local links to die in uniform in the War on Terror.
He was shot and killed by al-Qaida forces after he fell from a helicopter in the Kharwar Mountains of Afghanistan… .
Neil C. Roberts
Roberts was a Californian but his wife, Patricia, was born and raised in York County. So the SEAL was buried here, in Prospect Hill Cemetery. Surely, he is one of the bravest military men and patriots, among many, buried in the Manchester Township Cemetery.
His name is best known internationally as marking the ridge where he died fighting. Action on that elevated area became known as the Battle of Roberts Ridge, as the following York Daily Record/Sunday News story from 2006 relates:
A vicious wind cut through Prospect Hill Cemetery in North York on Saturday morning — the kind that reduces conversation to a series of hoarse exclamations. Jeffrey Hines, organizer of the memorial service for Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts, had to abandon the microphone and speaker because the wind made too much noise.
Yet every one of his words was audible as he stood beside Roberts’ grave. That’s because more than 70 observers listened in utter silence as Hines described the events that took place immediately before and after Roberts’ death.
The air’s sharp chill seemed to evoke a much colder setting: a mountaintop in Afghanistan where a helicopter mishap left Roberts stranded, and where he spent his last moments in combat with al-Qaida fighters.
The crowd included politicians: U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, R-York County; State Sen. Mike Waugh, R-Shrewsbury Township; County Commissioner Doug Kilgore and York Mayor John Brenner. It included veterans’ groups, friends, family and a few people who just wanted to pay their respects to Roberts, who died four years ago on March 4.
“In this simple grave, in this quiet cemetery, in our small town in Central Pennsylvania, lies a national hero,” Hines said.
The Supreme Sacrifice Committee of the York County Joint Veterans Council, which comprises 47 different veterans groups in York County, sponsored Saturday’s ceremony, which lasted about 20 minutes. Hines said the group would like to make it an annual event.
Carrie Page, Neil Roberts’ stepmother-in-law, was among a group from Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc. Post 35 of Lower Windsor.
Roberts, 32, was from Woodland, Calif. His widow and Carrie Page’s stepdaughter, Patricia, was born and raised in York County. They were married in Virginia back in 2000. They were both quite happy, unaware that a day was fast approaching when the world would go crazy.
Page figures she spends more time at Post 35 than she does at home. Her husband, Gilbert, was a member.
Some of the guys in the post had to talk among themselves before remembering that his name was actually Gilbert. Everybody called him “Dad,” because he was like a father to them.
Gilbert died a couple of months before Roberts did, but he was proud of his son-in-law. She figures he would have been proud of Roberts’ son, too.
His name is Nathan, and he’s 5 now. He lives with his mother near Virginia Beach, and he already looks so much like Roberts. He’s showing the same natural athleticism, already playing soccer and taking swimming lessons.
“He’s getting to be quite the young man,” Page said.
Hines addressed the crowd, giving a brief account of the events that led to Roberts’ death.
Roberts’ SEAL team was in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, heading to the top of a mountain called Takur Ghar as part of Operation Anaconda, the U.S.-led offensive in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan to surround and destroy a large group of al-Qaida fighters.
They had been told that the mountaintop was clear. But al-Qaida fighters began firing at the large helicopter with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades from close range.
The chopper was hit. As it lurched away to safety, Roberts tumbled out the rear door and fell about 10 feet to the snowy ground. The severely damaged helicopter was unable to return for him immediately.
Later evidence showed that Roberts, vastly outnumbered, held out against the enemy for 90 minutes to two hours before being shot at close range. Unaware of his fate, would-be rescuers retook the ridge at a cost of several American lives.
Roberts’ wife wanted him buried in the county where she grew up. But another plot of ground marks his legacy as well. The 17-hour firefight on top of Takur Ghar is now known as The Battle of Roberts Ridge.
When Hines finished his account, a bugler played taps, Platts said a few respectful words, and members of the crowd observed a moment of silence and then headed for their cars.
Roberts’ niece, 17-year-old Ashley Page of West York, stood shivering as she waited for her father. She remembers Roberts’ death as part of a very dark spell.
Both of her grandfathers died around the same time, as well as an aunt and the young child of a neighbor, who was aboard one of the hijacked flights on Sept. 11, 2001. Death seemed to be everywhere.
One thing that comforts her, however, is the realization that so many people remember her uncle.
“I didn’t think there were going to be this many people,” she said, looking around at the departing crowd.
Visit this list of those who have died in Global War on Terrorism: Wars’ fallen local connections.
Other posts of interest:
– Statesman buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery: ‘He said his farewells to his family … ‘.
– World Trade Center I-beam at York’s Prospect Hill Cemetery: ‘Last week we had a young firefighter from Juniata … here to see it’.
– York’s Prospect Hill Cemetery Community Mausoleum: ‘Once it’s rebuilt … we’re good for another 100 years’.
– York County deaths from 20th-21st century wars top 1,000.
– 2,000 witness York County Vietnam Memorial unveiling, and next day many keep stopping by.
– Maj. Gen. David F. Wherley Jr. assumed major role in guarding post-9/11 D.C..