Robert Warns once helped a bunch of friends into a sold-out rock concert by using his artistic skills to scrawl fake passes on their hands. “Such a rascal”, said his sister, Katie Riesch. Warns, 23, of Waukesha, Wis., was killed in an attack on Nov. 8. His unit was based in Madison, Wis. There was never any doubt that he would join the military, and he enlisted in the Marine Reserve with a year still to go in high school. He was entering his senior year as a business student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when he was called to active duty in June. His girlfriend, Erin Nielsen, is pregnant and said she is certain he will watch over his son or daughter from beyond. “He was so excited”, Nielsen said. “He had something to look forward to when he came home”.
Waukesha – With an outpouring of grief for a fallen son, Waukesha residents Thursday laid to rest a young Marine who died living out his last adventure.
Robert P. Warns II, 23, who was killed in fighting in Iraq, was remembered by family and friends as a spirited young man who died before he could embark on his next exciting mission – parenthood.
His pregnant girlfriend, Erin Nielsen, told mourners at St. Mary’s Catholic Church that Warns had dreamed of becoming a father and that she is certain he will watch over his son or daughter from beyond.
“He was so excited,” Nielsen said. “He had something to look forward to when he came home.”
Warns, a 1999 graduate of Catholic Memorial High School, was killed Nov. 8 along with two other Marines less than two months after their reserve unit arrived in Iraq.
According to a military statement distributed to mourners Thursday, Warns and the others – Shane K. O’Donnell, 24, of De Forest, and Brandon Ramey, 22, of Belvidere, Ill. – died when their vehicle struck a land mine south of Baghdad.
Twenty-eight Wisconsin soldiers have been killed in the U.S.-led mission in Iraq.
Father Brian Mason, pastor of St. Mary’s, expressed the anguish of an entire community when he recounted the loss of a young man who was baptized and had grown up as a member of the parish.
“One of my kids has been killed,” Mason said. “I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t know what to feel.”
The church maintains a gallery of photographs of more than a dozen congregation members on active duty in the military. Below the photo of Warns are the words no family wants to see: killed in action.
Family recalls loved one
Several family members took turns sharing memories of Warns, describing him as a rambunctious youth, an athlete with an artistic side and a brother who was not above typical childhood pranks.
“Such a rascal,” exclaimed his sister, Katie Riesch, who recounted when Warns got a bunch of friends into a sold-out rock concert by using his artistic skills to scrawl fake passes on their hands.
Others described the fallen soldier’s softer side.
His mother, Bridget Warns, said she always feared that her son would outgrow any interest in showing her affection. But even after reaching adulthood, she said, the son she knew as “Bobby” never hesitated to hold hands or hug her.
“I will thank God every day for that incredible gift,” she said.
A near-capacity crowd of about 1,000 mourners, including Gov. Jim Doyle, turned out for services at St. Mary’s, followed by a military burial at St. Joseph Cemetery, complete with bagpipes and a Marine gun salute.
Young children lined the street to wave American flags as the procession headed toward the cemetery.
Under overcast skies on a mild November afternoon, tears flowed down mourners’ faces as they gathered around the casket at St. Joseph and sang the Irish ballad “Danny Boy.”
A Marine official read a declaration awarding Warns the Purple Heart.
Friends say Warns was an adventurer who joined the Marines at age 18 almost immediately after graduating from high school.
He attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was a business student entering his senior year when he was called to active duty in June as a corporal in a Madison-based unit of the 24th Marine Regiment, 2nd Battalion.
“Bob is my knight in shining armor, the one every girl dreams of,” said his girlfriend, who told mourners she and Warns met during his freshman year of college.
Warns and his battalion arrived in Iraq on Sept. 15 – 54 days before Warns was killed.
In correspondence home, Warns repeatedly offered family members reassurances, showing concern for their comfort rather than his own. A letter his parents received shortly after his death included a note asking God to “watch over my family.”
His father, Robert Warns, described a son who displayed leadership qualities from a very young age.
He then paid tribute to his son in military fashion, tearfully reciting a passage of a Marine hymn and declaring: “Corporal Robert P. Warns II is at his post and is on duty.”
With that, the father turned to the closed casket and bid farewell with a crisp salute.
To benefit Bobby and Erin’s expected child, the Robert Paul Warns II Memorial Trust has been established at Waukesha State Bank, 100 Bank St. Waukesha, WI, 53186.
Cpl. Robert P. Warns II, died Monday, Nov. 8, 2004 in Lutifiyah, Iraq while serving his country in the U.S. Marine Corps, 2/24 Golf Company, Weapons Platoon. Born on May 2, 1981 in Waukesha, WI to Robert P. and Bridget M., nee McDermott, Warns. Survived by parents; sister, Katie (Jack) Riesch; grandparents, Norman and Dorothy Warns, Rosaleen and the late Myles McDermott; girlfriend and best friend, Erin Nielsen and their unborn child. Further survived by aunts and uncles, Anne (Tom) Rovtar, Cecilia McDermott, Noreen (Greg) Nowak, Myles (Annmarie) McDermott, Norm (Dee) Warns, Sue Martini and Rich (Janet) Warns; cousins, godchild, other relatives and many, many longtime friends. Visitation Wednesday, Nov. 17 from 4 to 8 p.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 225 S. Hartwell Avenue in Waukesha. Visitation continues at church on Thursday, Nov. 18 from 10 to 11 a.m. Funeral Mass 11 a.m. Burial with military honors at St. Joseph Cemetery. The Robert Paul Warns II Memorial Trust is being established at Waukesha State Bank, 100 Bank St., Waukesha, WI 53186 to benefit Bobby and Erin’s unborn child. Randle-Dable, 1110 S. Grand Ave., Waukesha, WI, 262-547-4035 .