TURN OUT TO REMEMBER SLAIN SOLDIER
By Carrie Antlfinger
— Michelle Witmer told her two sisters when she was 10 years old that
she wanted to be a hero.
“She was a hero when she died,” her identical twin, Charity, told more
than 600 people Wednesday night at a memorial service for the
20-year-old, who died Friday in Iraq where all three sisters served
with the National Guard.
Charity Witmer told the mourners that Michelle had told her and their
older sister Charity as they talked about what they wanted to be when
they grew up: “Seriously, I could push someone off a bridge and save
That brought chuckles from the crowd.
But tears quickly followed for many when Charity added, “It wasn’t by
saving someone in a lake. She was a hero when she died.”
Major Gen. Albert Wilkening, adjutant general of the Wisconsin National
Guard, presented Witmer’s family, of New Berlin, with a Purple Heart, a
Bronze Star and the National Defense Service Medal.
Michelle’s father and mother read from Michelle’s e-mails.
She had sent one to many people, updating them on her life. She said
she was working night shifts and rarely got a day off.
Her mother, Lori, told how just a year before, Michelle was a college
student and her only worries were restocking the ramen noodles.
She read an e-mail that Michelle addressed to her father, with the
subject line “Daddy,” pondering how the last year had changed her
perspective on life, culture, war and things worth dying for.
“She began to think of her many experiences ... and she preferred to
think of them as spices that gave the story of her life a richer
Charity, who tried hard to hold back tears, described Michelle as a
klutz who loved candy.
“Michelle was a loving, empathetic woman, more wonderful than words can
describe,” she said. “She loved the drama, she loved the cheese, she
loved to tell stories.”
She also said her sister was at peace when she died.
“One of the last times I saw Michelle she gave me a big hug and kiss
and said I love you. It was a gift from God. She was at such a good
place when she left this world.”
Brig. Gen. Kerry Denson, commander of the Wisconsin National Guard,
said Michelle was very proud of her contributions to the Iraqi freedom.
Two large photographs of Witmer, including one of Michelle dressed in
fatigues, stood at the front of the auditorium at Elmbrook Church.
Witmer, a specialist with the 32nd Military Police Company, was the
first Wisconsin National Guard soldier to die in military combat in 60
years. She was assigned to the U.S. Army military police, doing police
work in Baghdad.
Her sister Rachel, 24, also served in the 32nd, which was sent overseas
last May. Charity was sent to Iraq late last year as a medic with
Company B of the Wisconsin Guard’s 118th Medical Battalion.
The sisters were granted leave and returned home Monday. They were
still deciding whether to return to Iraq.
Gov. Jim Doyle attended the memorial service and told the state deeply
respects the service and sacrifice they have given.
“We will support you and your family in whatever the future may bring,”
Outside the church auditorium, scents of the large floral arrangements
filled the air as mourners looked at collages of snapshots of Witmer
and her family and friends.
The 2nd Platoon of her company sent an arrangement of flowers with a
card that read: “Michelle, you’re always one of us in our hearts and
DEPARTMENT OF MILITARY AFFAIRS
Statement by Maj. Gen. Albert H.
Wilkening on the
death of Wisconsin Army National Guard Specialist Michelle Witmer
deeply saddened by the death of Specialist Michelle Witmer. This very
special citizen-soldier served her nation with bravery, distinction and
valor as a member of the 32nd Military Police Company of Milwaukee and
Madison. My deepest sympathy goes to Michelle’s entire family and
especially to her two sisters, both of them Wisconsin National Guard
soldiers who were also serving on active duty in Iraq. I hope the
Witmer family knows just how proud Wisconsin is of Michelle, how
grateful we are for her service, and how saddened the entire Wisconsin
National Guard family is for her tragic loss. I pledge to the Witmers
all the support of the Wisconsin National Guard they may need during
the difficult days and weeks ahead.
Specialist Michelle Witmer is a hero whose service to Wisconsin and to
her nation will never be forgotten. She is the first Wisconsin National
Guard soldier killed in action since the waning days of World War II,
and she is the first female soldier killed in action in the 167-year
history of the Wisconsin National Guard.
In tribute to Michelle Witmer I am ordering the flags at all Wisconsin
National Guard armories, air bases and other facilities lowered to
half-staff beginning Monday morning and continuing until after her
On behalf of all 9,900 of Specialist Witmer’s fellow soldiers and
airmen of Wisconsin’s National Guard, I salute this fallen hero and
pray for the safe and speedy return of the 32nd Military Police
Company, and the continued safety of all 400 soldiers and airmen of the
Wisconsin National Guard who are still serving overseas in harm’s way.
— Major General Albert H. Wilkening