Sunday, July 01, 2007

DJ Bentz laid to rest

CLAYTON More than 200 mourners carrying both umbrellas and American flags streamed into St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church on Friday to honor a young man many call a hero.

U.S. Army Pfc. David J. Bentz III, 20, was killed in Iraq on June 20.

"He paid the highest price," said Father Jaromir Michalak, who led the noon Mass. "It wasn't what the country could do for him. It was what he could do for his country, and his memory will never be forgotten."

Under a gray sky, more than 40 veterans stood solemnly along the path leading to the church, holding large American flags.

"I'll never look at a flag the same way again," said Stacie Rogers, a former girlfriend of Bentz's. "I'm going to think of him and all the other soldiers that lost their lives."

Among the veterans' groups represented at the funeral were the Last Patrol, the Patriot Guard Riders, the South Jersey Vietnam Veterans and the Semper Fidelis Marine Corps League Detachment.

While many did not know Bentz personally, they considered him a brother in arms.

"I don't know the family whatsoever," said Army Ranger veteran Darren Buker of Pittsgrove. "All I know is, he's another soldier. To me, any serviceman that goes to another country and fights is a brother or sister of mine."

Not only did the veterans come to honor Bentz, but also to protect his family against unwanted demonstrators who picketed the funeral from farther down the road on Delsea Drive.

Words of hate coming from three members of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, an organization that believes God is punishing the U.S. for its acceptance of homosexuality, were drowned out by veterans who recited the Pledge of Allegiance and revved their motorcycle engines.

New Jersey Gov. Jon. S. Corzine, who made a brief appearance at the church, said it's important to recognize fallen soldiers like Bentz.

"They've paid the ultimate sacrifice," Corzine said.

Inside the church, family, friends, and many members of the community attended the visitation period, which lasted three hours.

"He was our hero," said Bentz's mother, Lena Butterworth, before breaking into tears. "We're so proud."

Flower arrangements depicting some of Bentz's interests soccer, fishing, pool flanked his silver casket, which was draped in an American flag.

"I love my nephew very much," said Bentz's uncle, Bob Bentz. "We were very close. Peace be with him."

During Mass, the church pews were filled to capacity.

Between hymns and prayers, the faint tolling of church bells could be heard.

"There's a feeling of unfairness in the death of a young person, and there is little to be said in the face of such tragedy," said Father Michalak. "At 20, the world was at his feet. His whole life was in front of him, and he reached out and grabbed it with both hands."

Mass was followed by a burial ceremony at the Gloucester County Veterans Memorial Cemetery, where a line of motorcycles flying American flags led the procession to the stone pavilion.

Bentz's stepmother, Kimberly Geonnotti, wept as Father Michalak led a prayer over the flag-draped casket and anointed it with holy water.

The skies cleared and the sun emerged briefly as the family was awarded five declarations and medals on Bentz's behalf, including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

Bentz was praised as a "dedicated soldier, brother and friend."

The honor guard then fired a rifle salute of three volleys and "Taps" resounded through the cemetery.

Following the interment, a reception was held at the Elk's Lodge in Clayton.

From the Sunbeam

Related Link:
D.J. (David J.) Bentz III dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'