By BOB JACKSON
NEW CASTLE, Pa.
Staff Sgt. Edward Mills Jr. didn’t become a hero just by joining the military or by sacrificing his life in the line of duty.
Staff Sgt. Edward Mills Jr. Funeral
Funeral services for Staff Sgt Edward Mills Jr, killed in Afghanistan, were held in New Castle Pa. June 11, 2011.
He’d been a hero all his life. And he was so much more, those close to him say.
“Eddie has always been there for me. He has always been my hero,” said Mills’ brother, Pastor Jarod Mills. “People think of Eddie as an American hero, and I’m so thankful that people now know the hero that I know.”
Sgt. Mills, 29, of New Castle, died of wounds received in an attack in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on May 26. He was among six soldiers killed in the attack, and his brother eulogized him during a funeral
Saturday morning at Ed & Don DeCarbo Funeral Home and Crematory on South Mill Street.
In an emotional, tearful remembrance, Jarod, 24, described his older brother as a quietly generous man, much like his grandfather had been.
“Eddie never wanted recognition for anything he did,” Jarod said. “He gave everything he had. How much more love could Eddie show for us than giving up his life for us?”
A 2000 graduate of Union High School, Edward joined the military in 2005 and was a member of the Army’s 101st Airborne Ranger Pathfinders on his third tour of duty in the Middle East.
Jarod said he and Edward’s family have taken comfort in knowing that Edward was a Christian who has gone on to heaven. He said the best way for people to honor Edward is to pattern their lives after the fallen hero’s.
“Flying the American flag is nice, and standing out [along the streets] is nice,” Jarod said. “But the only way you are going to truly honor my brother is by living out a godly life the way he did.”
Jarod said that the day Edward left home to return to Afghanistan, they shared a passage of Scripture from the fourth chapter of Revelation.
“That is one of the few Scriptures about what heaven is going to look like, and it was the last ‘picture’ that I gave Eddie before he left,” Jarod said.
Prior to the service, the Mills’ uncle, Lew Greenawalt of West Pittsburgh, Pa., said the family has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Words can’t express it. We’re just in awe when we see all these people. People who don’t even know us are here.”
A funeral home spokesman said about 1,000 people paid their respects to the fallen soldier during calling hours Friday evening, and hundreds more poured in to the funeral home for the service Saturday. Soldiers from a military honor guard stood at the head and foot of Edward’s flag-draped coffin.
Pictures of Edward, from both his military days and his days at Union High School, were on display, as were some of his military medals and honors.
Greenawalt is a veteran himself, having served in the 101st Airborne Division Paratroopers during the Vietnam War. Because of that, Edward would often bring him military memorabilia as gifts, and always refused to accept any money for them.
He said when Edward was home for visits, he preferred to not talk about his experiences in Afghanistan.
“All he would say is, ‘You don’t know the half of it’. That’s all he would say,” Greenawalt said quietly. “He was a good kid. Not because he was family. He was just a good kid.”
He remembered Edward as hard-working, who had jobs at Wendy’s and at a plant in Wampum, Pa., before he joined the military. “He was just one of those kids you took a liking to,” he said.
“He was probably one of the best men that the good Lord ever put on this earth,” said 76-year-old James Patton, who attended the service with his wife, Betty, 85. They were friends with Edward through the Clifton Flats Alliance Church, where Jarod is pastor.
William Harlan, 23, of New Castle, said he had served on active duty with Edward, and remembered him as a man who tried to find humor in all situations, and always tried to make people laugh.
“He never put himself first,” Harlan said. “I never knew anybody that didn’t like him. He was a good soldier.”
Outside the funeral home, some 200 more people stood waiting for the funeral to end, some of them holding American flags and standing along the route that the motorcade would follow to the cemetery for Edward’s burial.
Among them were some 65 motorcycle riders who belong to the Patriot Guard Riders. The group was included in the motorcade that escorted Edward’s body to New Castle from the U.S. Air Reserve Station in Vienna last week, and escorted the hearse to the cemetery Saturday.
“We’re here to honor the fallen Sgt. Mills and his family,” said Bud Roberts of Upper St. Clair, Pa., a former state captain of the organization. He said the group provides the service for any veteran, if asked.
“We only go if we’re invited,” he said, noting that riders had come from all over Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York to participate.