MAHOMET – Next time you want to know how much freedom costs, the Marine veteran said to a group of solemn mourners, go out and look up at the stars in the night sky.
"Sometimes God takes our sharpest and brightest stars," said Bud Hooser, commander of Mahomet American Legion Post 1015.
And two of them, who went to serve their country in Iraq, were taken from Mahomet, he said.
In 2004, Spc. Jessica Cawvey.
Now, Spc. Justin Penrod.
"That is the price of freedom," Hooser said in a candlelight prayer service held Sunday night for Spc. Penrod at Candlewood Estates in Mahomet.
Army Spc. Penrod, 24, died in a bomb blast in Baghdad on Aug. 11.
Before moving to Fort Stewart in Georgia, he and his wife, Christina, lived at Candlewood Estates, a mobile-home park on Prairieview Road in Mahomet.
The prayer service was held there outside, organized by a neighbor, John Scott, who says he thought of Spc. Penrod like a grandson.
"I can't say enough good about him," he said.
Vi Wilson, another neighbor, says she didn't know the young man. She came to the service to pay tribute.
"He died for his country," she said.
Scott said he'd intended to organize a small prayer meeting to support the family with love, but so many people wanted to pay tribute that it grew into a larger, public event.
Scott said Spc. Penrod and his wife were well regarded by their neighbors.
"Good people," he said.
Christina Penrod, who was supported to and from a podium by members of her family, was crying too hard to say much.
She thanked everybody for coming. Her husband would have been proud. He's with us every day, she said.
"He was a wonderful man and an awesome father," she said.
Others remembered Spc. Penrod as a hard worker and a role model who turned his life around after dropping out of high school.
He graduated from Rantoul's Lincoln's Challenge, joined the Illinois National Guard and later returned to help other troubled kids at Lincoln's Challenge.
"He has done great work," said Peter Thomas, Lincoln's Challenge director.
The Rev. Jim Blue, pastor of the Olivet Church of the Nazarine in Georgetown, recalled several days ago, when Spc. Penrod's grandmother, who goes to his church, asked him, "Why my Justin?"
"We may never know the answer," he said.
But he does know, Blue added, that others can make a difference if they live for Spc. Penrod and what he believed in.
"We, too, can make an impact," he said.
Spc. Penrod's full obituary appears today.