DARLINGTON—A local hero died in combat last week.
Spc. Jakob Roelli, 24 of Darlington, was one of two soldiers who died Sept. 21 while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of injuries suffered when insurgents attacked the unit with small arms fire. Spc. Robert E. Dyas, 21 of Nampa, Idaho, also died of injuries during the attack.
Jakob was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan. He was a 2006 graduate of Darlington High School and the son of Richard Roelli of Darlington and Dawn (Gill) Lacy of Texas.
Richard said Jakob wanted to join the army when he was 17. Instead, Jakob started at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for pre-law.
“He just wanted to see what it was like,” Richard said. “He didn’t like college. He was a guy that was outside the box. He wasn’t an institutionalized kind of person. He tried things for a while, said ‘I mastered that,’ and moved on to the next thing.”
Richard told a story about Jakob’s enlistment in the Army. After the first semester of college Jakob had an appointment with a recruiter from the Marines, but the recruiter was late and while Jakob was waiting “the Army recruiter nabbed him before the Marine guy came back.”
Jakob took a test and qualified for special forces and was one of two from Oshkosh to ever qualify.
“He wanted to serve his country,” Richard said. “He had the opportunity to get out of going over there [Afghanistan] and he chose not to.”
While Jakob was waiting for deployment, he started Ranger school.
“He was sitting there doing nothing,” Richard said. “This is a guy who wants to get out there and see some action… He finished the first of three sections of Ranger school and when they called him [for deployment] he didn’t hesitate. When he was over there [Afghanistan] he was in the thick of it.”
Richard said Jakob was a very active youth. He played football for two years, ran cross country one year, was in the school plays and musicals and participated in Odyssey of the Mind.
“He was a typical kid,” Richard said. “He hated homework. He didn’t try to get straight A’s. That wasn’t his thing. He could have. When he set his mind to something he’d do it.”
Richard said Jakob was a determined individual, but he wouldn’t tolerate evil.
“I think that’s why he went over there to fight,” Richard said. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly, but if somebody was hurting this country, he wanted to defend it.”
Richard said he has received many phone calls from officers Jakob served with telling him how Jakob was a great soldier who would step forward whenever necessary.
“Everybody loved him,” Richard said. “They might have thought he was a goof ball, but they still loved him.”
Most of Jakob’s family lives nearby. The Gills, his mother’s side, live near Apple River, Ill., while the Roelli side lives near Darlington. Jakob has a brother, Matthew (Eryn) Roelli, and niece, Olivia.
“He made everybody happy,” Richard said. “He had love in his heart.”
Richard said Jakob was baptized as an adult and was a Christian in both deed and word. He helped wherever he could and he loved people. He was over there fighting evil, not people.
When Jakob died he was serving as an infantryman. Since his death his promotion to sergeant was approved.
“I really loved him,” Richard said.
Information about the funeral services for Jakob will be made available at ericksonfuneralhome.com when arrangements are finalized.
The last time Lafayette County lost a soldier during warfare was during the Vietnam War in 1965.