Cpl. Allen Roberts
(reprinted from Herald-Review.com, December 6, 2007)
Arcola community pays respects as Marine Cpl. Allen Roberts’ body returns home from Iraq
By HUEY FREEMAN – H&R Staff Writer
SAVOY – Snow was blowing across the runways and nearby frozen fields as the family of Marine Cpl. Allen Roberts and Marines in dress uniforms waited inside a hangar at Savoy’s Willard Airport.
Just minutes before the small charter jet carrying the body of the young Marine descended, the snow suddenly stopped, the gray and white clouds rolled away, and the plane descended into the first sunshine to hit the ground Wednesday morning.
Thus began the welcome home journey for Roberts, 21, of Arcola, who was killed Nov. 28 in a vehicle accident in Iraq.
“He was so proud to be a Marine,” said Theresa Nave, Roberts’ former teacher. “Everybody loved him. He had tons of friends. You won’t find anyone in town that will ever say a bad word about him. He was just a great young man. People say (everybody loved him) after something like this happens, but they really did.”
There was a brief, solemn ceremony in the hangar, in which a contingent of Marines from the Terre Haute, Ind.-based 3rd Battalion, 24th Division, slowly, silently carried the flag-draped casket from the plane to a white hearse.
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, veterans who regularly attend military funerals, lined the sides of the hearse, supporting 16 large flags.
First Sgt. Troy Euclide escorted Roberts’ mother, Jaye Roberts, and grandmother Jeanne Strader to the casket after it was lowered to the hangar floor. They were joined at the head of the casket by his father, Ron Roberts, girlfriend Katrina “Kat” Chavez and others. The relatives and friends briefly huddled for a moment of prayer.
Hundreds of area residents lined up along U.S. 45 and the streets of Arcola to give a hero’s welcome to Roberts, described by friends and former teachers as a popular, fun-loving young man with a great sense of humor.
Nick Shields, 23, a lifelong friend, drove to Arcola from Champaign to see the procession, which included about 40 vehicles, led by three police cars.
Shields said he grew up with Roberts in the tiny town of Kemp, east of Arcola. As young children, there were only a few other children in town.
“He was a very good friend,” Shields said. “He was always there when you needed him and very understanding. He was funny. He always liked to joke around and have fun.”
They played on soccer, basketball and football teams together in grade and junior high school. Roberts later played football for four years at Arcola High School.
“He was good at everything in sports,” Shields said. “He was very competitive, very athletic.”
Shields recalled that he last saw Roberts about a month before he was deployed to Iraq.
“He came home on leave,” Shields said. “We went out to the bar and caught up on what he did before he left. We spent most of our lives together until graduation; then he joined the Marines.”
Roberts joined the Marine Corps on Nov. 1, 2004, about six months after graduation.
Shields said his friend loved being a Marine.
“He was doing what he wanted to do, and it made him very happy,” Shields said. “He loved to share stories about being overseas. He talked a lot about his girlfriend, Kat. He talked about all the things he got to do and places he got to see.”
Roberts had been deployed in 2006 with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said Sgt. Rocky Smith, public affairs chief for Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Ariz. Smith said the Corps does not release specific information on deployments of expeditionary units, which are ready to go anywhere in the world within 24 hours.
Roberts was serving in Iraq as an administrative clerk with Marine Wing Support Squadron 372, Smith said. His home unit was Marine Attack Squadron 214.
“He did administrative work, but all Marines are riflemen first,” Smith said. “Any Marine deployed has collateral duties, such as guard duty.”
Roberts was promoted to corporal March 1, shortly before beginning his Iraq deployment.
Wednesday morning, about 120 students of Arcola Elementary School stood alongside Main Street in wind chill temperatures below 15 degrees waiting to honor Roberts.
“Nice straight line, boys and girls,” called out Tedi Cooper, fifth-grade teacher at Arcola Elementary School. “Best behavior, respect.”
Just 11 years ago, Cooper was giving instructions to another small boy, someone who made a deep impression on her.
“Allen was in my fifth-grade English class,” Cooper said while keeping an eye on the children. “I went to school with his mother. I remember Allen as fun-loving, hard-working, scrappy, busy, active.
“His mother has always been by his side. No matter what he did, she was on a committee for his cause. She was an excellent mother, and Allen’s going to be sorely missed.”
Nave, who taught Roberts in fourth grade, carried a handmade sign that said: “Great son, great student, great Marine, great loss.”
Nave said it was nothing for her and others to stand outside in freezing weather to show their love for Roberts and his family.
“He gave up the ultimate sacrifice,” Nave said.