Stovall brightest among leaders
Thursday, September 2, 2004 7:00 AM
1st Lt. Matthew Ryan Stovall was laid to rest Sunday afternoon under an
unrelenting August sun beneath the shade of a persimmon tree in a
corner of the tiny Coldwater Baptist Church Cemetery almost in sight of
his boyhood home.
Hundreds of mourners had lined the nine-mile route through town and
down the winding, pastoral Mississippi 21 in simple but extraordinary
displays of patriotism, many waving or displaying American flags,
holding homemade banners and standing at attention with their hands
over their hearts as the two-mile-long procession passed.
The 25-year-old Neshoba County native, a member of the National Guard’s
367th Maintenance Company, was killed Aug. 22 in Iraq when a roadside
bomb exploded beside the vehicle in which he was riding while on a
humanitarian aid convoy mission.
Stovall was the second Neshoba County native killed in Iraq. Joshua S.
Ladd died May 1 when a convoy he was defending was attacked. Stovall
was the 16th Mississippian to die in Iraq.
Stovall was remembered Sunday by the commander of the Mississippi
National Guard as a genuine leader and one who has no doubt found
eternal rest given his firm belief and faith in Christ.
About 500 people crowded into McClain-Hays Funeral Home Chapel and the
vestibule for Stovall’s service.
Wreaths of red, white and blue flowers surrounded Stovall’s
military-issued hardwood casket while a framed military portrait stood
Three awards, presented to him posthumously, were placed near the
coffin: the Bronze Medal and Mississippi Magnolia Cross, for
meritorious service; and the Purple Heart, for wounds received in
Stovall had recently been promoted from 2nd lieutenant just prior to
Leslie Dickinson didn’t know Matthew Stovall or his family but felt the
need to show her support. She stood across from the courthouse with her
husband Donald and 9-month-old son Parker all waving flags and watching
the funeral procession pass.
“It was just such a tragic event,” Dickinson said. “I just think about
that little boy growing up without a father. I couldn’t imagine.”
She was amazed at the turnout saying it really showed what the
community was made of.
“I was really surprised and I was really proud of the support everyone
showed,” she said.
The Philadelphia Fire Department deployed firefighting apparatus to the
square as a sign of respect and aided with traffic control as did the
Fairview Volunteer Fire Department near the cemetery.
The procession was led by a motorcycle officer from the Philadelphia
Police Department along with five patrol cars, two from the Neshoba
County Sheriff’s Office and three from the PPD.
At the intersection of Mississippi 15 and 16 at Williamsville mourners
lined the highway and a large American flag was displayed by a group on
a hill at the Mississippi 21 exit. Along the route people stood outside
their homes and flags were placed on mailboxes.
Among the tributes pouring in from Iraq for Stovall are those from the
401st Transportation Company to which he was attached four months ago.
The accounts paint a vivid picture of Stovall, his character, his
personality and his devotion, in the days leading up to his death. (See
story, page 1A.)
Maj. Gen. Harold A. Cross, the commander of the Mississippi National
Guard, said during the funeral that the three citations presented
posthumously to Stovall were some of the country’s most prestigious
“But make no mistake about it, the greatest citation has already been
read for Matt Stovall ... when he stood before our ultimate commander
“Probably at attention with that broad smile on his face, he heard
those immortal words said to him because of his belief in a Savior:
well done my good and faithful servant, well done.”
Cross recited the military oath of office and said no other officer who
has worn the uniform of this country has exemplified and fulfilled his
promise as well as Stovall.
“That broad smile and that great, great vigor of emotion made people
want to follow him. He was an ideal officer, an officer that comes
about with just a few people every generation.”
Cross praised Stovall for rising up and saying, “send me” after the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Because of courageous men and women like him, this country “will never
become shackled and will always be a citadel of freedom and great hope
for the rest of the world,” he said.
Cross said he would always remember Stovall and the many freedoms he
fought to protect, especially when he votes and when he is called for
“I will remember him when I look at that great Star Spangled Banner
flying at ball games or on our public buildings or on display whenever
we have an event where we stand up with pride and sing the national
The Rev. Bob Patty of Chattanooga, Stovall’s former pastor, described
the fallen soldier as a young man who loved life. He recalled watching
him grow up as the youngest of three children in a close family that
included loving grandparents.
He said Stovall was diagnosed with a heart condition at an early age
and recalled his parents’ concern when he was hospitalized on numerous
“He had a heart that would suddenly take off beating a lot faster than
it should,” Patty said. “I wonder, perhaps even then, if God was trying
to tell us that little heart had to beat the proverbial three score and
10 years (70 years) in 25 years,” he said.
The Rev. Chris Vowell, a childhood friend of Stovall’s brother Matt,
said he searched and prayed for words to say what would make everything
alright for his family and those who see a wife who needs her husband;
a little boy who needs his daddy; and “my friend who needs a brother.”
An emotional Vowell said he was proud of the folks in uniform who are
serving the country, but feared that the war against sin was being lost
at home with many American’s losing their goodness.
He quoted author Alexis de Tocqueville: “America is great because
America is good. When America ceases to be good, America will cease to
Many, Vowell said, were more concerned about making a dollar, climbing
the ladder to success, or reaching the American dream than accepting
Jesus as their Savior.
“Folks, when we start letting our young men and women go over there and
fight for something that’s not worth fighting for, then it’s time for
repentance, it’s time for us to get our lives right.
“My prayer is that Matt’s life, Matt’s service, will bring some good
here today for people who need to get some things right with God.”
Elmer Pickens read a tribute written by his son, Wesley Pickens, who
served with Stovall in Iraq.
An emotional Pickens said his son “wanted to be here so bad” for the
“On this day, watching the beautiful sunrise carries little
consolation, for a candle in my heart has been extinguished forever,”
the soldier, stationed in Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, wrote.
“The events of war may bring complete strangers together in the bonds
of brotherhood, but no greater anxiety compares to the knowledge that
one’s own flesh and blood is out of the reach of a loving brother’s
protection,” he said. (See entire tribute, Page 4A.)
Born Dec.19, 1978, Stovall was a 1997 graduate of Neshoba Central High
School, a graduate of East Central Community College and attended
Mississippi State University. He had been a resident of Southaven for
the past three years.
He was attached to the 401st Transportation Co. in Iraq.
Stovall was a member of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
Survivors include his wife, Natalie Stovall of Southaven; a son, Walker
Stovall of Southaven; parents, Buck and Ellon Stovall of Philadelphia;
a sister, Marsha Vance and her husband, Shelton of Madison; a brother,
Mark Stovall and his wife, Jennifer of Starkville; two nieces, Olivia
Vance and Kaley Stovall; one nephew, Jackson Vance; grandmother,
Catherine Hardy of Philadelphia; mother-in-law, Lora Crawford of
Southaven; father-in-law, Ronnie Crawford of Southaven; and
brother-in-law, Justin Crawford of Southaven.
An education fund has been set up for Stovall’s son. Memorials may be
made to the Walker Stovall Education Fund, c/o The Citizens Bank, P.O.
Box 209, Philadelphia, MS 39350.
Mourners began lining Beacon Street as early as 1:30 p.m. Sunday,
waiting for the funeral procession. Many brought their own flags or
were given small hand-held flags by members of the NCHS Jr. ROTC or the
Community Development Partnership.
The ROTC unit also placed larger flags in flag holders along the street.
Lynette Kilpatrick and a friend were standing at the railroad depot and
she was holding a small American flag, the same flag she said she waved
at the send-off for the 367th. A final farewell was only appropriate
with that same flag, she said.
About 500 people filed into the small cemetery, some eventually
encircling the burgundy funeral tent where family members sat as others
lined the chain-link fence.
A large formation of military personnel stood to the left of the
funeral tent and saluted as the casket was put into place.
The silence before the service was shattered by the traditional 21-gun
salute for a fallen soldier. A woman yelped in response and even the
rigid composure of a soldier was lost for a moment.
A bugler played Taps.
Men wept openly. Women clutched the arms of men and wiped their eyes
with tissue. Many mopped sweat off their brows in the 90-degree heat.
Some were overcome briefly by the heat.
Throughout the service Stovall’s 2-year-old son Walker fidgeted with a
small flag, moving from one lap to another. Well behaved, he watched
and reacted to his mother and grandparents as they wept.
When Gen. Cross presented both Natalie Stovall and Ellon and Buck
Stovall with folded American flags Walker smiled at him, reaching out
to touch the flag and then holding it with his mother.
When the service concluded, one at a time family members walked to the
casket touching it and placing flowers or flags on top.
Natalie Stovall held her son who reached out to touch the casket, then
his mother’s face.
Before the graveside service, members of Coldwater Baptist Church
worked to set up tables and prepare food for a meal following the
On the wall of the fellowship hall are pictures of several members
serving overseas. On one wall a picture of Ladd alongside one of
Clanton Griffin Mathews who was killed in World War II.
Both were members of the Coldwater Baptist. Church members said they
haven’t had time to get a picture of Matthew Stovall to put up on the
A memorial service for Stovall was planned today in Southaven where he
and his wife made their home.