Soldier Who Served With Sisters in Iraq Honored

When Michelle Witmer (searchwas 10, she had a vision of her future, telling her sisters she wanted to be a hero.

"Seriously, I could push someone off a bridge and save them," the little girl told her twin Charity and older sister Rachel.

At a memorial service Wednesday night, Charity Witmer told more than 600 mourners that her sister got her wish.

"She was a hero when she died," Charity Witmer said. "It wasn't by saving someone in a lake."

Michelle Witmer, 20, died April 9 in Iraq, where both Charity and Rachel, 24, also serve with the National Guard (search).

Major Gen. Albert Wilkening, adjutant general of the Wisconsin National Guard, presented Witmer's family with a Purple Heart (search), a Bronze Star and the National Defense Service Medal.

Two large photographs of Witmer, including one of her dressed in fatigues, were arranged behind the family at Elmbrook Church.

"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," Charity Witmer said.

Michelle Witmer, a specialist with the 32nd Military Police Company, was the first Wisconsin National Guard soldier to die in military combat in 60 years. Assigned to the Army military police, she was stationed in Baghdad.

Rachel Witmer 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, as is their prerogative.

Speakers at the service included Gov. Jim Doyle and Brig. Gen. Kerry Denson, commander of the Wisconsin National Guard.

Denson quoted an e-mail from Sgt. Nate Olson, who was in the Humvee with Michelle when they come under fire. He said Michelle was attempting to return fire when she was hit.

"For her quick reactions she undoubtedly is the reason why I am here today. Thank you Michelle," Denson quoted Olson as writing.

Outside the church auditorium, large floral arrangements and collages of snapshots of Witmer and her family and friends were displayed, as mourners filled an atrium for the service.

The 2nd Platoon of her company sent flowers with a card that read: "Michelle, you're always one of us in our hearts and minds."

The photos included shots of Witmer in a Green Bay Packers sweat shirt, as a young girl in a red-and-white dress and as a grade-schooler in a dance costume.

At the front of the auditorium, two large television screens flashed photos of Witmer as visitors greeted the family, of New Berlin. Many walked away red-eyed and teary; a grief-stricken Charity had to take a break, at one point, and was escorted away.

Defense Department policy allows soldiers from the family of someone who dies while serving in a hostile area to request an exemption from serving in a hostile area. That request must come from the soldiers themselves, but the family said the sisters were deferring that decision for now.