Parents say Neff was ?living his dream?

November 9, 2007

   ELIDA — William and Nancy Neff supported their son’s decision to join the Army. They have not wavered from that, even as they continue to mourn his death two months ago in Iraq.    “We supported him in his choice and we would do it all over again knowing that he could possibly be killed, which we knew the first time,” William Neff said. “We would still do it again because it was what he wanted.”    Army Spc. Christian Neff, who died Sept. 19 from wounds from a roadside bomb while on patrol in Iraq, was honored Thursday during a veterans program at Elida High School. His parents were presented with a plaque and $100 to go toward a fund in his honor to assist Apollo Career Center students. Neff was a 2006 Apollo graduate. More than $5,000 has already been donated to the fund.    “We just want to make sure that nobody forgets Chris and that’s one reason why we set up the scholarship fund,” Nancy Neff told The Lima News after the program. “He is our hero and we want to honor him. ... It is such a shame he died so young, but he loved what he was doing.”    The Neffs were not surprised when their son told them he wanted to join the Army. It was an interest he had had since he was a little boy outside in the yard picking up sticks to pretend they were guns and swords.    “Nancy would be on the rider lawn mower and he would be behind the tree stalking her,” William Neff said, as he and his wife laughed together.    Christian turned out to be a good soldier; his parents were told by commanding officers he could always be depended on. He drove the tank well and was a safe driver, they told the couple. He was in the lead tank when the bombing occurred.    Christian Neff didn’t find much time to write home to his family, his parents saying he was too busy and too committed to his work. He was “finally living his dream,” they believe.    The couple finds comfort in knowing Christian was making a difference in Iraq, a place he had only been for four and a half months. During that time, he befriended the people of Iraq, many of whom would often ask for him.    “He would have a little spare time and go back out and talk with the Iraqi people, play with the children and dance with them,” William Neff said. “They would ask for Neff and they would want Neff to come out and dance with them.”    Christian was learning to speak with his new friends. He had a notebook with him when he died. It contained a list of words both in English and the Iraqi language. Nancy Neff said that at a memorial service held for Christian in Iraq, members of the Iraqi military attended bringing flowers with them.    “It was really an honor to us,” she said. “They had never had this happen before.”    “In the short time he was there, he touched a lot of lives and made a difference,” William Neff added. “It makes us so proud.”    The family recently returned from Fort Stewart, Ga., where Christian was based and where a tree now stands in his honor along with others who have died.    “When the soldiers come back from Iraq they go to their buddies’ tree and pay their respects,” William Neff said. “It is really important for the soldiers to have that tree. It is kind of their connection with their buddies who lost their lives.”    The Neffs are grateful for the support they have received since Christian’s death, saying presentations like the one in Elida on Thursday show that the troops and their son are not forgotten here.    “The community, the Army, everyone has been so respectful and honorable to Chris and so supportive to us. And we just appreciate that so much,” William Neff said.    Christian had told his parents he had “all kinds of stories” to tell them when he came home. They thought he was coming in January, but he was planning to surprise them and be home Nov. 17, his mother’s birthday.    “So next weekend we are going to be gone,” William Neff said. “We can’t stand to be home and not have him come home.”    “These holidays are going to be tough,” his wife added.    The Neffs just this week ordered their son’s tombstone. The phrase “Freedom is not free” will appear on it. The same words were written on a bracelet Neff had on the day he died.    “And he knew that,” William Neff said. “But he was still there, still fighting in the danger.”