Body of soldier killed in Kenya attack brought to Illinois
By MIKE NOLAN | The Daily Southtown | Published: January 15, 2020
HAZEL CREST, Ill. (Tribune News Service) — The remains of fallen Army Spc. Henry “Mitch” Mayfield Jr. came back to his hometown of Hazel Crest on Wednesday in a procession that also went by the high school he attended.
Mayfield, 23, died in a Jan. 5 attack at an airfield in Kenya and was brought back to the Chicago area by military transport before being carried in a procession that swung past Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills before arriving at Hazel Crest Village Hall.
Students at the school, which Mayfield graduated from in 2014, held flags and signs and gathered outside the school, at the northeast corner of Pulaski Road and 175th Street.
Clutching flags outside Village Hall waiting for the procession to arrive, were Clara Patten and her daughter, Nicole, both Hazel Crest residents, who came “out to show our support,” Nicole said.
Clara Patten said she didn’t even know Mayfield Jr., but “I was about to cry seeing (the news of his death) on the TV.”
Harvey Henry, of Markham, Illinois, said that Mayfield Jr.’s father is his cousin and that he had known the younger Mayfield all his life.
“He was very outgoing,” Henry said.
Henry said his son and his son’s wife spent more than two decades in the military, often deployed overseas, and that as a parent he wasn’t always sure where they were or how they were faring.
“Once in awhile they could send word telling you they were OK,” he said.
Howard Robinson, a former longtime Hazel Crest resident, said he felt he had to be at Village Hall when the procession arrived.
“This young man was truly proud of his service and we were proud of him,” he said.
Robinson was former state command sergeant major for both the Army and Air branches of the Illinois National Guard, retiring in 2013. During his more than three decades with the guard he was involved in the training of thousands of soldiers, he said.
“I had soldiers who did not come home,” he said. “(Being here) was the right thing for me to do.”
People holding flags awaited the arrival of the procession, which included dozens of police vehicles from Chicago suburbs including Deerfield, Lansing, Northlake, Oak Forest, Orland Park, South Holland and Summit.
Afterward, members of Mayfield Jr.'s family bowed their heads as the Rev. Robert Arnold, pastor of Look Up and Live International Ministries in Hazel Crest, said a brief prayer.
“We are praying for strength on this day,” he said. “We are praying for healing for this family.”
Tuesday, Hazel Crest handed out yellow ribbons to hundreds of attendees and asked that they tie them around trees in the community to commemorate Mayfield Jr.’s sacrifice.
Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry, a military veteran, said that although the ribbons typically represent support for the homecoming of military personnel, they are intended to be a “welcome home” gesture for Mayfield Jr., who joined the Army in 2017.
Al-Shabab, an Islamic extremist group based in Somalia, has claimed responsibility for the assault at Manda Bay Airfield that killed Mayfield Jr. and two American defense contractors.
Mayfield Jr. joined the military after struggling to afford college tuition, according to his family.
Before enlisting, he worked fueling and de-icing planes at Chicago's O’Hare International Airport, where a military transport carrying his remains had arrived earlier in the day Wednesday.
Mayfield Jr. served as an air traffic services mechanic with the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group of the Army’s 1st Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment, according to the military.
He had been stationed at Fort Rucker in Alabama prior to deploying to Kenya last October, where he worked installing and maintaining heating and cooling systems, according to his family.
A visitation will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Friday at Doty Nash Funeral Home, 8620 S. Stony Island Ave., Chicago. A wake for Mayfield Jr. begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the House of Hope, 752 E. 114th St., Chicago, followed by a Purple Heart Service at 10:30 a.m. and funeral at 11 a.m.
Burial will follow at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois.