Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Joel Dahl laid to rest

Those who knew Sgt. Joel Dahl all agree on one thing - his ability to make people feel better with laughter.

More than 275 of Dahl's family and friends who'd gathered at Belen's First United Methodist Church Monday morning for the Los Lunas soldier's funeral service cried but also laughed and smiled at the memory of Dahl's ability to make them forget their sorrows.

"I think that really fits with Joel," said the Rev. Jay Armstrong, who presided over the funeral service.

After the funeral, a procession followed the hearse that took Joel Dahl to his final resting place at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

Armstrong was Dahl's pastor and presided when Dahl married his wife Alia, who gave birth to their son on Thursday, June 28 - just five days after Joel Dahl's death from small arms fire while on patrol in Iraq.

The birth of their son, Kaiden, came four days before Joel Dahl, 21, was to return from his first deployment to Iraq on July 2. As if that weren't enough, Alia Dahl, already a widow at 19, went into labor on Thursday morning as police were finishing up recovery of her Honda Civic.

The car was stolen the morning before and found Thursday a few miles away from her brother's Northwest Albuquerque home, where it had been stolen. Kaiden's birth and a drive to raise money to replace the stolen Civic that netted more than $30,000 were the high notes of a bad week for Alia Dahl.

Armstrong, who added a subtle joke to the comments that Alia Dahl offered when she spoke about her late husband, said that humor was something that Joel Dahl carried with him in life.

"He was a person who laughed all the time, and he always had everyone else in stitches as well," Armstrong said. "And so I think it was appropriate to do that, and I think that's what Alia wanted as well - to celebrate the life that he lived.

"And that was the life that he lived."

Armstrong spoke warmly of Kaiden in his sermon. "I see him," Armstrong said of the baby. "His legs are long, and his eyes are bright and, if you look into them, you will see some of the Joel's mischievousness.

"We pray for you, Alia," he intoned in mock seriousness as the audience chuckled appreciatively.

Alia Dahl also made reference to Joel Dahl's humor, telling the crowd about their first meeting after thanking everyone for the support she'd received since his death.

In explaining why she asked for a closed casket funeral - done so he could be remembered as he was in life rather than death - she asked his friends and family to "share stories and remember him in happier days."

"He'd do things to aggravate people but he did it to cheer people up," she said. "Joel is in a better place."

"He's probably walking alongside God and aggravating him now," she said as many in the audience laughed while dabbing tears from their eyes.

Voice cracking with emotion, Maj. Jerry Thompson read the words of Joel Dahl's younger brother, Nick.

"I think of all the time we shared together," Nick wrote. "Playing football, wrestling ... and most of all playing Army in the backyard. He would watch me and my sisters when no one else was there." Thompson is Nick's adopted father.

Hiltrud "Oma" Ridenour, the grandmother of Dahl's best friend, Robbie Ridenour, also admired his way of looking at the world. She said she met Joel Dahl for the first time when he was a 10-year-old and said he "could find something funny in almost every situation." She said Joel Dahl would never say goodbye to her "because it was forever.

"So I would tell him 'auf weidersehen,'" she said, referring to the German word used to express farewell.

Former Los Lunas High School principal Gina Sallie, who said she grew close to Joel Dahl when he was a student there, said he was one of those students "who really touched your heart."

"A lot of the kids do, but Joel ... he was just rare," she said. "He'd make you laugh, he'd get you mad, he'd make you laugh. But I could always count on Joel. He knew when I was having a bad day; he'd come and change it for me. He had a way of winning people over.

"He was finally getting his life together," she said. "He was just so special. He was one that I never wanted to say goodbye to."

It was the second funeral service for a fallen Valencia County soldier in the last seven days. Last Tuesday, Pfc. Henry Bird III of Belen was laid to rest. Byrd collapsed while on duty in Iraq and later died at an American military hospital in Germany from complications due to heatstroke.

Dahl, who was a member of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division based out of Fort Lewis in Washington State, was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant when his name was officially released by the Department of Defense on June 27, four days after his death.

Officers from the New Mexico State Police, Valencia County Sheriff's Department, Belen Police Department, Los Lunas Police Department and the Rio Rancho Police Department were present, as were the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcyclists who attend the funeral services of soldiers and provide support for their families.

Armstrong finished the service by reading an untitled poem he wrote for the occasion that began with the line "A Tear was Shed at Heaven's Gate."

"A triumphant shout from heaven's choir

The thief is made to give up his prize

A feast is set

For a son comes home."

From the News Bulletin

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Joel A. Dahl dies 'of wounds sustained when his unit was attacked by enemy forces using small arms fire'