DARLINGTON—A local soldier was laid to rest on Saturday.
Sgt. Jakob Roelli, 24 of Darlington, returned home with an American flag draped over his casket at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5.
Jakob was one of two soldiers who died Sept. 21 in Afghanistan of injuries suffered when insurgents attacked the unit with small arms fire.
For more than an hour on Wednesday people stood in anticipation of the procession, waiting for the moment when Jakob finally made it home. Darlington Fire Department parked the ladder truck at the corner of west Harriet and north Main streets and flew a large American flag. More flags lined two sides of the block leading to Erickson Funeral Home on west Catherine Street.
A silent crowd of mourners—many dressed in red, white and blue—waved flags and sported yellow ribbons as the procession of law enforcement, motorcyclist groups, Jakob’s close family and the hearse drove from the Iowa County Airport near Mineral Point to the Erickson Funeral Home in Darlington.
Military personnel, local veteran organizations and police officers welcomed the young soldier home with a salute. The crowd of spectators gathered around with hands over their hearts and many with tears in their eyes as Jakob was moved into the funeral home.
Matt (Matter) Charlier of the Warriors’ Watch Riders said 88 motorcycles from several different organizations were in the procession to protect Jakob’s body and his family during this difficult time. Al Brandt of the Darlington American Legion said there were veterans from Darlington, Shullsburg, Blanchardville and Barnevald present to show their support on Wednesday. Law enforcement from Lafayette County, Iowa County and almost every village nearby participated in the procession.
At 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, a smaller procession was received by a larger crowd as Jakob was moved from the funeral home to the First Baptist Church where visitation and funeral services would take place.
Downtown businesses closed up shop for a few moments to line Main Street and show their support for the family. On Center Hill Road, the entire Darlington Community School students and staff lined the hillside and held flags and signs.
The visitation was held from 2-9 p.m. on Friday at the church in Darlington.
When arriving at the funeral on Saturday, an estimated 400 people saw the front of the church lined with approximately 80 American flags held by members of the motorcycle groups. The church was full by 10 a.m. and another 200 chairs were set up in the adjoining auditorium where the crowd could watch the funeral that was shown on a large screen featuring a live video feed. After all of the chairs were filled, people stood against the walls for the service, 1 ½ hours long.
The casket was closed at 10:30 a.m. and the American flag was draped over the top.
The service started at 11 a.m., during which the family was given three awards Jakob earned: the Purple Heart for wounds received on Sept. 21, the Bronze Star for meritorious service overseas from April-September 2011 and a certificate for earning the rank of sergeant. Two military officers presented the gifts from President Obama to the family in the front row of the church.
Three people paid tribute to Jakob at the end of the service. His brother, Matt Roelli, had a tearful thank you to the military, motorcycle groups, veterans and community for all of their support for the family. Justin Erickson, Jakob’s best friend, shared stories about the adventures they had, including Jakob’s wild imagination that eventually turned into dreams of being a soldier and a hero. Caitlin Pixler of Manhattan, Kan., Jakob’s fiancée, depicted Jakob as a superhero. She even narrowed down his super powers: fearless, passion, humor, eyes, being centered, singing, being a man child, love (his greatest and most secret power, she said) and living life (his most important power).
Many people throughout the service talked about Jakob as an asset to the community, a full-of-life presence wherever he was, a warrior, a Christian, a kind-hearted man and an overall outstanding person.
The Darlington Fire Department blocked traffic on Hwys. 23/81 at Center Hill Road for the funeral procession to the cemetery. A small crowd gathered at the intersection to watch. The firefighters stood in front of the trucks, facing the procession, with their hands over their hearts. Jakob was laid to rest in Union Grove Cemetery with military officials and local veterans participating.
Roelli 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.