Orfordville, WI, US
CPL, CO B, 1ST BN, 508TH PARACHUTE INF REGT, 4TH BCT, FORT BRAGG, NC
04/25/2012, ZHARAY, Afghanistan
CPL Benjamin Harold Neal graduated from Parkview High School in 2009. He was a wrestler, and a participant in the FFA and 4-H programs. Just after his HS graduation on June 16, 2009, he entered the Army and reported to Fort Benning, GA for Basic Training. Benjamin enjoyed his time spent with family, music and the outdoors.
CPL Neal’s death came as a shock in his hometown of Orfordville, WI (pop. 1,321). It had not seen a combat death since World War I. To light his way back to Orfordville from Afghanistan two Neal family members launched a social media campaign asking friends and family to leave a porch light on “Lighting the Way to Bring Ben Home.” The page included a map that was marked with each spot where a light was turned on for Ben. Thousands of lights went on across North America, Europe and the Middle East, from Alberta, Canada, to Landstuhl, Germany and Bristol England each day until CPL Neal returned home.
Denise Neal explained that this was a way of collectively expressing grief and to help CPL Neal’s mother and father at such a difficult time. All sorts of posts went up on the special page created for CPL Neal. One soldier, Jon Martin, wrote that he had attended basic training with Ben and was in the same brigade. “I have lots of good memories with him and still regularly tell the story of when he ‘liberated’ a book from the drill sergeant’s office and read it aloud for everyone to enjoy in our down time. I added my ‘light’ to the map in Kandahar, Afghanistan.”
Kristin Stephenson wrote, “You and your family are in my heart and prayers during this time of sorrow. I thank you and yours of [sic] your sacrifice. Lights are on in Rockford, IL.” Orfordville pulled together to support and embrace the Neal family.
Karl Stuvengen recalled “There are memories of walking CPL Neal down the street and playing sports with him — “all the things to remember.” He added that he was proud of how the town had offered its help. Orfordville pulled together to support and embrace the Neal family.
Any money collected on behalf of CPL Neal will go to a charity for children with special needs, a cause important to him.
“Ben Neal was a charismatic, fun-loving Paratrooper whom I never saw frown,” said LT COL Ced Carrington, the 1st Battalion commander. “He took great pride in being a team leader and was respected by all of Battle Company and throughout the Battalion. Ben was a true Paratrooper in every sense of the word. His loss will be sorely felt by his fellow Paratroopers and the entire 1st Battalion Family.”
Parkview Superintendent Steve Lutzke said CPL Neal “just felt a need to serve” and went into the military after graduating. He remembers Ben for his “wonderful personality” and his strong faith.
And Ben understood the commitment he was making to serve overseas, according to Parkview High School wrestling coach Joel Steinman. “He was a great young man, a smart young man. If you truly want to name a hero, that’s Ben. He did die for what he believed in, for us.”