Michelle M Witmer

Michelle M Witmer

When Michelle M. Witmer was 10 years old, she told her two sisters she wanted to be a hero. “Seriously, I could push someone off a bridge and save them”,the little girl told her identical twin Charity and older sister Rachel as they talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. All three sisters have served in Iraq with the National Guard. Spc. Michelle Witmer, 20, of New Berlin, Wis., died April 9 when her Humvee was attacked in Baghdad. In e-mails home, she said she was working night shifts and rarely got a day off but said she enjoyed volunteering at an orphanage. “It was when I was holding one of these children that I realized I have so much to be thankful for”, she wrote. Witmer was trying to return fire when she was hit, said Brig. Gen. Kerry Denson, commander of the Wisconsin National Guard, quoting an e-mail from Sgt. Nate Olson, who was in the Humvee with Witmer. Charity said her twin got her childhood wish. “She was a hero when she died”. she said.

Michelle Witmer was with the Wisconsin National Guard 32nd Batallion serving in Bagdad, Iraq. Her family was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and the National Defense Service Medal. She was laid to rest on Friday, April 16, 2004. When she was 10 years old, she told her two sisters she wanted to be a hero. “Seriously, I could push someone off a bridge and save them,” the little girl told her identical twin Charity and older sister Rachel as they talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. All three sisters have served in Iraq with the National Guard. Spc. Michelle Witmer, 20, of New Berlin, Wis., died April 9 when her Humvee was attacked in Baghdad. In e-mails home, she said she was working night shifts and rarely got a day off but said she enjoyed volunteering at an orphanage. “It was when I was holding one of these children that I realized I have so much to be thankful for,” she wrote. Witmer was trying to return fire when she was hit, said Brig. Gen. Kerry Denson, commander of the Wisconsin National Guard, quoting an e-mail from Sgt. Nate Olson, who was in the Humvee with Witmer. Charity said her twin got her childhood wish. “She was a hero when she died,” she said. Incident Date: April 9, 2004. Cause of Incident: Action. Location of Incident: Baghdad. Details of Incident: Witmer died when she became involved in an explosive and small-arms fire attack.

Born February 13, 1984. Died April 9, 2004 at the age of 20 years, in the service of her country. Beloved daughter of Lori and John Witmer. Survived by loving siblings SPC Rachel, Tim, Sgt. Charity and Mark. Lovingly survived by grandparents Jan Pretzel, Paul and Karen Pretzel. Preceded in death by grandparents Gail and Paul Witmer. Also loved by aunts, uncles, cousins and many dear friends.

Visitation Wednesday, April 14 at Elmbrook Church, 777 South Barker Road, Brookfield from 4:00 PM until 6:45 PM followed by a Service of Remembrance at 7:00 PM. Private family interment.

Memorial donations may be made to The Michelle Witmer Fund at Tri-City National Bank. Contributions will support the sister of Charity Orphanage of Baghdad. If friends are unable to attend Services, memorials may be sent to the Funeral Home at 14075 West North Ave., Brookfield, WI 53005.

When drivers see a street sign bearing the name of Michelle Witmer, the first female Wisconsin National Guard soldier to be killed in combat, her family and fellow soldiers want them to feel inspired.

Her father says her service as a soldier and gunner on a Humvee in the Iraq war marks a new age for the military in which women are no longer a “sub class” that serves only in non-combat roles. Witmer’s supervisor said her time spent volunteering at a Baghdad orphanage after her long shifts should inspire everyone to do what they can for people in need.

Witmer, from New Berlin, was a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Military Police Company. She was shot and killed in an ambush attack in Baghdad almost a decade ago, on the evening of April 9, 2004. She was leaving the green zone in a Humvee with three fellow soldiers and found herself as a gunner when the convoy was hit by small-arms fire and a roadside bomb. She was shot in the heart and died on the spot. She had just turned 20.

On Sunday, Witmer’s company attended a ceremony on Milwaukee’s north side to honor her and reveal new signs that rename a section of Richards St. north from Capitol Drive after her. The section of the road that was renamed includes Richards Street Armory, which is the home of her company.

“Many of these soldiers are a year or two in, and they may not know who she was. Now they’ll know,” Witmer’s father, John Witmer, said after the ceremony as he stood next to his wife, Lori.

He said he wants people who see the street sign with his daughter’s name to remember her, but also to recognize that Witmer embodied a paradigm shift of women toward strong soldiers who serve on war’s front lines. Witmer’s twin sister, Charity, and sister Rachel also served in Iraq.

Witmer was known for her tender heart, which endeared her with children in Baghdad. The commander of Witmer’s unit, Lt. Col. Scott Southworth, said Witmer’s kind and gentle nature and inner strength came out when the soldiers volunteered at the Mother Teresa orphanage for kids with special needs in Baghdad after their regular 12- to 16-hour shifts.

Southworth said he hopes people will be inspired by her actions.

“Every person who turns down Witmer Street will be reminded that they can make a positive difference, too,” he said. “Knowing her, she would not have wanted this attention. She would have wanted people to be inspired to help someone who’s in need.”

Gov. Jim Doyle and others will name the department’s auditorium “Witmer Hall” in honor of Wisconsin Army National Guard Spc. Michelle Witmer, of New Berlin, the first female soldier killed in combat from the National Guard. The lobby will feature a life-size bronze bust of Witmer, and each of the fallen soldiers will be memorialized with bronze plaques.

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New Berlin
04/09/2004
Age: 20
Incident Location: Baghdad, Iraq
Branch: Army
Rank: Spc.
Unit: 32nd Military Police Company, National Guard
Units Base: Milwaukee, Wisconsin