York Town Square

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Part II: Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts: ‘In this simple grave … lies a national hero’

A relative visits the burial site of Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts at Prospect Hill Cemetery in 2007. The Navy Seal was the first fighting man with York/Adams ties to die in the War on Terrorism. (See the photo of Daren Hildago, the officer who most recently fell in combat below.) Also of interest: Tomb of unknown soldier in York, too and York/Adams 21st-century war death total stands at more than 20 and York County deaths from 20th-21st century wars top 1,000.

An adaptation of the following will run as a York Sunday News editorial on March 13:
Navy SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts was slain on March 4, nine years ago.
He died alone on a remote mountaintop in Afghanistan, locked in combat with the enemy.
He was laid to rest in York County’s Prospect Hill Cemetery.
Let’s pick up the York Daily Record/Sunday New account from 2006 here:

“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.”

Neil C. Roberts, who had married a York County woman, was the first with York and Adams links to die in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At least 26 other fighting men with such ties to have fallen in uniform since then.
Too many.
That’s easy to say.
What can we do?
At the very least, we must not forget them and their sacrifices.
Most recently, York countians mourned the death of 1st Lt. Daren Hidalgo, a Dallastown Area High School graduate. He was buried this week in West Point’s cemetery.
The U.S. Military Academy graduate was killed in February near Mama Kiriz, Afghanistan, after the enemy attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
Five years ago – March 3, 2006 – Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder was killed in a Humvee crash in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
Westboro Baptist Church members picketed his funeral, and earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the First Amendment protects Westboro’s hateful speech during funeral protests.
Look at a map of York and Adams counties, and the 27 men who have died have ties across the region – from Gettysburg to Dillsburg to Delta.
That number is adding up, though thankfully at a slower pace.
York countians have paid the price for freedom in previous wars.
In the Korean War, 63 York countians died.
In the Vietnam War era, that number was 101, with 85 dying in the theater of war.
May the War of Terrorism’s toll not reach those levels.
At Prospect Hill Cemetery on that cold day in 2006, Jeffrey Hines had more to say about the first to fall in what has become known as the Battle of Roberts Ridge.
“In this simple grave, in this quiet cemetery, in our small town in Central Pennsylvania,” Jeffrey Hines said, “lies a national hero.”
Neil C. Roberts is that.
Those 27 who have died? They’re all heroes.
We must not forget them.

Daren Hidalgo, a 2005 graduate of Dallastown Area High School was killed in February, the most recent fighting man with York County links to die in the War on Terrorism.
Also of interest:
The York County Heritage Trust’s exhibit observing local links to World War I through the Vietnam War will close at the end of 2012. For details, see Front Porch to Front Lines: York County Goes to War.

All York Town Square posts from the start. (Key word search by using “find” on browser.)

*Edited, 11/11/12