Flags at government buildings across Wisconsin were flown at half-staff on Tuesday, July 7 in honor of U.S. Army Pfc. Steven Drees.
More than a thousand persons paid final respects at his funeral in the gymnasium of Peshtigo High School, where he had graduated little more than a year earlier. Then, at private services at Riverside Cemetery at noon Wednesday, July 8, members of the 19-year-old soldier’s grieving family said their final farewells.
Peshtigo has been a community in mourning since Wednesday, June 24, when word came that the popular young soldier had been mortally wounded during an insurgent attack on his Army unit in Afghanistan. His parents, Dawn Bayer of Peshtigo and Paul Drees of Grover, and twin brother, Charles, flew to Landstuhl, Germany, where he died on Sunday, June 28.
His body was returned to Peshtigo on Sunday, July 5 with full military honors. More than 50 members of the volunteer Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles accompanied the hearse and a string of Drees family vehicles from the Twin County Airport at Menominee to the Berth & Rosenthal Funeral Home in Peshtigo.
Many homes and businesses in Peshtigo and elsewhere along the procession route were adorned with flags and signs in Drees’ honor. Some of the flags flew at half-staff, although the official day of mourning was to be on Tuesday, July 7.
The yard of the family home, just two blocks from the funeral home, had been filled with flags a week earlier, on Monday, June 29, by hundreds of relatives and friends who waited to greet his family on their sad return from Germany. Most of those flags were still there when Drees made his last trip home.
At the funeral home a cortege of nine military personnel, in full dress uniform, complete with white gloves, lined the walkway as they awaited the arrival of the fallen soldier’s remains. Family members stood nearby.
Patriot Guard Riders formed a shield as Drees’ body was taken inside.
Onlookers, respectful of the family’s wish for privacy, kept their distance across the street.
On Tuesday morning, Patriot Guard riders again accompanied the casket, this time from the funeral home to Peshtigo High School, where visitation began at 10 a.m. and continued until the 5 p.m. funeral services.
Gov. James Doyle and other civilian and military dignitaries attended the services. Doyle reportedly arrived about 3:30 p.m.
Rev. Fr. John Harper of Green Bay and Rev. Jeremiah F. Worman, U.S. Army Chaplain, Retired, officiated at the services. Sister Helen Plum of Peshtigo assisted.
During the service, an Army representative presented the family with four honor coins and numerous awards, including the Bronze Star Medal with V device; Purple Heart Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; NATO Medal, Posthumous; Combat Infantryman Badge; Overseas Service Bar and the Expert Weapons Qualification Badge (rifle).
Steven is believed to be the first member of the United States military from Peshtigo to be killed in hostile action in the 39 years since Jon William Rich died in Vietnam on May 21, 1970. He was the ninth member of the American military to be killed in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2004, and the first from northeast Wisconsin.
An executive order issued by Gov. Doyle required that state and federal flags on public buildings be flown at half-staff on Tuesday, July 7, in honor of U.S. Army Pfc. Steven Drees, a native of Peshtigo, who died at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, June 28. The National Guard will render these honors in accordance with an executive order issued by Gov. Jim Doyle.
The order read: Relating to a Proclamation that the Flag of the United States and the Flag of the State of Wisconsin be Flown at Half-Staff as a Mark of Respect for Private First Class Steven Drees of the United States Army Who Lost His Life While Serving his Country in Operation Enduring Freedom
WHEREAS, on June 28, 2009, Private First Class Steven Drees, assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, United States Army, died as a result of combat related wounds suffered on June 24, 2009, while serving his country in Afghanistan; and
WHEREAS, Private First Class Steven Drees provided faithful and honorable service to the people of the State of Wisconsin and the people of the United States; and
WHEREAS, the people of Wisconsin mourn the death of Private First Class Steven Drees; and
WHEREAS, a memorial service will be held for Private First Class Steven Drees on Tuesday, July 7, 2009;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JIM DOYLE, Governor of the State of Wisconsin, by the authority vested in me by Federal and State law, do hereby order that the flag of the United States and the flag of the State of Wisconsin shall be flown at half-staff at all buildings, grounds and military installations of the State of Wisconsin equipped with such flags beginning at sunrise on July 7, 2009, and ending at sunset on that date.
All Wisconsin state government facilities are covered by the governor’s order and a 2007 amendment to the U.S. Flag Code now requires all federal facilities in Wisconsin to comply. Other government agencies, businesses and private residences with flagpoles were also authorized to Drees by lowering their U.S. and Wisconsin state flags to half-staff during the daylight hours of July 7.
Drees’ unit of 300 men left Fort Carson for Afghanistan on May 26, his 19th birthday.
Born on May 26, 1990, Drees graduated from Peshtigo High School in June of 2008. He had joined the National Guard prior to graduation on Feb. 20, 2008. Friends say he was extremely patriotic, and was eager to fight for American freedoms.
He started basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., on July 24, 2008. He was then assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Carson, Colo. He was deployed with his unit to Afghanistan on May 26, 2009, his 19th birthday.
Surviving in addition to his parents and twin brother are maternal grandmother, Louise Bayer and paternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry T. (Marian) Drees; his girlfriend, Stacia Baker and their unborn child; aunts and uncles, Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Bayer, Ms. Brenda Penkoske, Ms. Robin Bayer, Ms. Theresa Bayer, John Bayer, Mr. and Mrs. Shawn (Michelle) Vanderstault, Michael Paul Bayer, Tom Drees, Dennis Drees, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Drees, and 21 first cousins. Also many other relatives and friends, particularly Ms. Barb Bayer and Ms. Linn Tobin, who are special to the family.
Pallbearers were cousins John Bayer, Zack Drees and Michael Bayer and his friends, Mitch Johnson, Matt Meunier and Ryan Kniskern. Berth & Rosenthal Funeral Home, Peshtigo assisted the family with arrangements.
A cortege of Patriot Guard Riders accompanied the body at noon on Wednesday, July 8, for interment in Peshtigo’s Riverside Cemetery. He was laid to rest next to his maternal grandfather, Michael Bayer.
A Peshtigo man who deployed to Afghanistan last month on his 19th birthday died over the weekend from a gunshot wound.
Pvt. Steven T. Drees joined the Army right after graduating from Peshtigo High School last year and was serving with the 4th Infantry Division based out of Fort Carson, Colo.
A gunner on a Humvee, Drees was shot in the head during an ambush Wednesday in Konar Province when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, according to the Department of Defense.
His parents and twin brother, Charlie, flew to Germany to say goodbye to him Friday night, and the next day he was taken off life support at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, said his grandfather Henry Drees.
“What am I going to miss? I don’t have to worry no more about him, sad to say,” said Henry Drees.
A funeral will be at the Peshtigo High School gym, where Drees played basketball for the Bulldogs. A date hasn’t been set. His family is expected to return to Peshtigo on Tuesday.
His grandfather remembered him as an active guy who wanted to serve his country. One of his grandson’s platoon members e-mailed the family to let them know how he was wounded.
“He was too good. One of his crew got in touch with my son after” the shooting, Henry Drees said. “They were so happy he stayed with his gun when they were ambushed. He saved their lives.”
Like many guys who grow up in Wisconsin, Drees loved to hunt and fish. Each year, Henry Drees said, he and his four sons, including Steven’s father Paul, and his eight grandsons gathered with friends and other family members for the gun-deer season in November at their deer camp south of Peshtigo.
It’s a family tradition to have a big deer drive the day after Thanksgiving each year. Henry Drees couldn’t remember if his grandson was able to return home last year from his military training, but he fondly recalled many deer hunts with him.
“The kids have all gotten deer. We don’t care what they get for the first deer, but after the first one they have to get a buck. Steven got his share,” said Henry Drees. “Deer hunting camp will be different this year.”
Steven and Charlie Drees were fraternal twins and though they did things together, they had their own interests, their grandfather said.
They were “as close as twins could be. They were quite different. They were close, but their likes were quite different. Looking at them you’d never know they were twins.”
Henry Drees thinks his grandson might have made the military a career because he had received awards and promotions and liked the Army.
The small city of 3,000, which is known for the devastating fire that destroyed the community in 1871, has held candlelight vigils in Drees’ honor.
Shortly after Drees was wounded last week, his family received a phone call and was told medical personnel were working to stabilize him before flying him to Germany. His family arrived a few days later.
After his twin brother and parents bid farewell to him, Drees’ wish to be an organ donor was granted.
Steven T. Drees of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, was a 2008 graduate of Peshtigo High School. He joined the Army July 25,2008, and was trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. He left for Afghanistan on his 19th birthday, May 26, 2009, assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Carson, Colorado. Less than a month later, on June 24 in Konar Province, Afghanistan, insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire and a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher. Steven was gravely injured and transported to Germany. Steven’s parents and twin brother flew to Germany to say goodbye. His wishes to be an organ donor were granted. He died June 28 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, after life-support was disconnected. Steven’s military awards include: the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device; Purple Heart Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Star; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; NATO Medal; Posthumous; Combat Infantryman Badge; Overseas Service Bar and the Expert Weapons Qualification Badge (rifle). Steven was survived by his parents Dawn Bayer and Paul Drees; his twin brother Charlie; maternal grandmother, Louise Bayer and paternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry T. (Marian) Drees; his girlfriend, Stacia Baker and their unborn child. He was laid to rest next to his maternal grandfather, Michael Bayer.
Steven’s own words about who he was:
“My hometown is Peshtigo and as much as i hate it at times I’ll never forget it. It made me who I am and the Army just added to it, and I’ll never change. I’m a member of the US Army, I’m an Infantryman and I love it, I give everything I have to serve my country and the people in it I put the well being of the civilans before my own because I am only a tiny tiny part of my country and the civilians make up the majority of this country and giving one life to free thousands and make their life better is a trade me and my fellow Infantry brothers will make in a heart beat we are less than half of one percent of this great country and because of what we are capable of that is all we need so the rest of the United States and become whatever they want to without worry “The object of war isn’t to die for your country, it’s to make the poor bastard die for his” I don’t fight for this country it’s just land, I fight for the people that live here, every child, woman, and man. Whether you believe in me or not, I’m a Soldier and I’ll give everything I got.”