Colonel Franklin Childress, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs Director wrote:
This is not your typical Africa Command Blog. In fact it has nothing to do with Africa, but it is very important for me to share with you our readers a little insight into the United States military. Although it is written by an Army Major General, it could easily be from an Air Force, Marine or Navy or Coast Guard Admiral.
We get criticized from time to time on this blog for being Americans, but this little story is an important reminder of how our citizens support our fallen comrades who pay the ultimate price for our freedom.
It was written by a leader whom I know and respect.
I’d like to share a good news Army story with you. I apologize up front that it is a bit lengthy but believe it is a worthwhile read.
While flying on United Airlines last week I overheard a telephone conversation from a gentleman seated directly behind me. His words went something like this: “although today was an extremely sad day for me – it was absolutely the happiest day of my life and I am proud to be an American.”
This gentleman went on to talk about a funeral he attended in South Carolina and specifically gave great kudos to the US Army for the professionalism displayed at this service. He went into great detail about the funeral service itself and how it was conducted. He went on to say that Jeremiah really enjoyed serving in the Army and now he (man on the phone) clearly understood why.
My ears immediately perked up when I overhead him talk about the Army in such a positive way. He boasted about the General who presented the flags to him and his family, the sharp looking Soldier’s of the salute battery, the sounds of taps, how the Soldiers stood at attention for such a long period of time, how the military paid for his family to fly to South Carolina, the number of letters and calls he received from Jeremiah’s command, how the Red Cross assisted, and so on. He could not say enough great things about our Army.
I quickly pulled a 2 star card from my brief case and wrote him a thank you note for his kind words about our Army. He had no clue I was in the Army since I was in civilian clothes. Within seconds he tapped me on the shoulder and with tears in his eyes proceeded to tell me the rest of the story.
The gentleman’s name is Robert Wittman. He was flying with his entire family, wife, son, daughter, Mom, Dad, Grandparents and friends. They were carrying home the cremated remains of his son, SGT Jeremiah T. Wittman of the 4th Infantry Division who was killed in Afghanistan on 13 February.
Dad told me that Jeremiah already had 2 tours in Iraq and ultimately gave his life in Afghanistan. While in Iraq the 1st time – Jeremiah’s vehicle was hit by an IED and several of his buddies were severely injured. He went on to say that his son truly loved the Army and did what he did from the heart. His Dad was a proud man. He did say that he often wondered why his son stayed in the Army after his initial attack in Iraq. Now that he saw the US Army in action at the funeral – he now understands why.
Dad proudly held up the urn and boasted about how beautiful it was and continued to brag about the Army for all to hear. The folks around him listened with big ears and inspiration. I must admit, although it was really a beautiful urn and a wonderful Army story – it brought a slight tear to my eye as I too have a son (CPT in the 82D Airborne) serving in Afghanistan and this moment hit home.
Bottom line – although the family was saddened by the loss of their son – they were all proud to be associated with the US Army. I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice. Why? Simply because of the way they were treated by our Army family at the funeral. The 4th ID leadership and others involved did it up right and made a positive lifetime lasting impact with this family.
To top off a memorable flight – when the aircraft came to a halt – the pilot announced “ladies and gentlemen may I have your attention please. Among us today is a great American Soldier named SGT Jermiah Wittman killed in action on 13 February. Our deepest sympathy, respect and sorrow go out to the Wittman family. We ask that you honor SGT Wittman – our fallen hero, the entire Wittman family and our Armed Forces by remaining seated and allowing the family to depart the aircraft first.
At that moment you could have heard a pin drop in the aircraft but within seconds – everyone on the aircraft was clapping as the family departed on their way. The family departed feeling special and honored – I sat there proud to be an American Soldier.
Sorry this story was a bit long – but thought it was a story worth sharing.
Written by: Major General Kurt Stein